Lizzette Robleto looks back to a hard-won European battle over illegal logging

For decades communities in Honduras and Ecuador lived in fear of illegal loggers and their threats, corruption and criminal activities. 

There was little hope for an end to this destructive trade because regulating authorities and national governments were constantly undermined. Dishonest loggers and unscrupulous timber traders had free reign, obstructing any attempt to legally control the timber trade.

At the other end of the supply chain, the EU attempted to control imports of illegal timber into Europe via voluntary and non-binding initiatives such as Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) and Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT). But these well-intentioned initiatives represented no real deterrent to long-surviving criminal practices within the timber trade. Tough legislation was needed.

Illegal logging thus became a crucial part of Progressio’s policy and lobbying in the UK and EU. Our main goal was to obtain EU regulation that prohibited illegal timber entering EU markets. This year our supporters and allies joined forces – once again - to support a final push towards strong legislation on timber. 

The regulation we wanted imposed strict obligations on those selling timber and timber products in the EU market. We petitioned MEPs for genuinely strong legislation and highlighted the detrimental impact of illegal logging on the livelihoods of poor communities and people living alongside forests. We argued that if the European Union, and the UK especially, did nothing to put an end to this criminal trade, all our development efforts to improve governance and accountability on forestry in developing nations would amount to nothing.

People rallied to the cause! We received much support and advice from different sources including Advocates for International Development (A4AID) who brokered legal support through Shearman & Sterling. We could not have achieved what we did without such steadfast and first-class pro bono legal assistance!

Then finally, after many months of hard work on the politicians, long-suffering communities blighted by illegal logging had something to celebrate. On October 11th 2010, the EU Council of Ministers ratified new EU legislation on timber in what is an historic victory for good governance and for poor forest communities. The regulation is not perfect and we still need to work hard to ensure that the implementation is robust. But it is an exciting and strong starting point. 

Our partners in Honduras were delighted. Here are three responses:

Ana Padilla, forestry expert at Popol Nah Tun, a Progressio partner organisation

“Thanks to the EU legislation banning imports of illegal timber, illegal loggers will hopefully be forced to operate legally. The fact that the EU is one of the world’s largest consumers of illegal timber might force illegal loggers to legalise the entire process.

Implementation of such legislation would mean that agro-forestry cooperatives - that manage forests sustainably - would see their timber sales rise contributing to raise their income and thus benefiting their own communities. According to the Honduran Forestry Law, those cooperatives should invest up to 25% of their revenues in schools and other social services in the communities, so benefits for the people would be straightforward.”

Víctor Ochoa, an environmentalist and activist against illegal logging in Olancho, Honduras 

“If we look at the case of the Lacey Act in the United States, which bans imports of illegal timber, we see that the US demand for Honduran illegal wood has diminished. And the same would apply in the case of the EU. The less the demand for illegal timber, the less the need to steal wood. This EU legislation is a positive step, as we need to close spaces to illegal forest exploitation.

“Campaigning against illegal logging is also important. Eight distribution centres of illegal timber in the US – owned by Honduran businessmen – had to close down, as people no longer kept buying illegal timber products. Consumers stop buying those products as soon as they learnt they were illegal. And the passing of the Lacey Act was the final thrust to put an end to those sales.

Alberto Aurelio Granados, a leader of the “La Libertad” community and president of a Forest Community Consultation Committee in Campamento, Olancho, Honduras

“It is worth supporting this ban in Europe as it would serve our children - they would inherit that achievement. And also because some people here do not want a [national] law to be implemented, in order not to upset certain family members or friends. It is important to work with those people so that they understand the importance of stopping illegal logging.”

These voices are a powerful reason to make sure that the new EU legislation is made to work in the UK. Watch this space!

Lizzette Robleto is a Progressio Policy Officer. Photo: Alberto Granados, Olancho, Honduras. Credit photo © Omar Banegas/Progressio