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Legality Policies

Consequences of unbridled forest exploitation

In addition to destroying biodiversity and causing significant greenhouse gas emissions, illegal logging has devastating economic and social impacts in forest producer countries. Billions of dollars in much-needed tax revenues from often impoverished countries are being lost each year as black market crime rings steal valuable timber. Illegal logging operations also frequently involve human rights abuses, including violence against local communities, forced labor in logging camps, and pollution of vital fresh water supplies. The illicit wood trade facilitates networks of organized crime engaging in systemic corruption to avoid penalties and money laundering to hide profits. Consumers then become the unwitting financiers of large-scale corruption and human rights abuses.

Illegal logging can only prevail as long as international markets allow trade in stolen timber. That's why EIA works to transform the global timber market by pushing for new laws against international trade of illegally sourced timber in major consumer countries. Several countries and regions have already passed prohibitions on illegal wood imports and now require companies to ensure the legal origin of their products, delivering unprecedented levels of transparency in wood sourcing and early signs of the accountability necessary to shift the global market place. Full implementation of these laws, including holding those timber buyers who continue to source illegal products accountable, is now necessary to continue the transformation that began with the passage of these new laws.  

The U.S. raises the bar

Illegal timber imports into the United States are a threat to the more than 370,000 American jobs in the domestic wood industry. Prior to the passage of the Lacey Act, U.S. companies lost roughly US $1 billion each year, due to being undercut by cheap illegal timber imports. This unfair competition particularly undermines small and medium enterprises who are sourcing their wood responsibly.

As one of the most important consumer markets for wood products globally, the United States has a crucial responsibility and opportunity to help stop the trade in illegal timber and associated products. Since 2008, the U.S. has an effective tool in place to crack down on the trade in illegally sourced wood: The Lacey Act, as amended in 2008, makes it a crime in the United States to purchase, import, or transport illegally harvested wood products, both into and within the country.

Enforceable laws make a difference

The emerging demand-side measures to address the trade in illegally sourced wood products are having a major impact on the forest sector. As implementation of the U.S. Lacey Act is taking hold and enforcement is increased, reduced illegal logging rates are being detected around the world, and the wood products market is showing signs of transformation. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, imports of illegal timber have been declining by 32-44 percent since the Lacey Act was amended.

Corporations are now faced with a decision to either clean up their sourcing practices or risk reputational and financial repercussions, as well as possible criminal penalties.

Promulgating similar legality measures in key countries that currently lack such policies will continue to drive the trend toward legal sourcing, prevent leakage, and reinforce the impact of such measures on key manufacturing centers, like China. As more laws emerge and are being enforced, corporations become increasingly aware of the responsibility to keep illegal products out of their supply chains.

From national to international action

The U.S. alone will not be able to stop the trade in illegal timber and illegal timber products. Other important markets, such as the EU and Australia, have already passed their own legislation against illegal timber imports. Other major wood-consuming countries, such as Japan, and notably China, need to follow suit to continue to tip the scales against the illegal timber trade, globally.

In order to create greater international pressure to clean up timber markets and continue building momentum for global recognition and action against illegal logging and trade, EIA also works to advance forest legality and good governance principles in multilateral policy venues such as the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Bank policies and funding portfolios, and international trade agreements. Multilateral trade fora offer an opportunity to replicate timber legality policies across more countries, quickly. Recent U.S. trade agreements have included binding environmental provisions that seek to tackle illegal logging by supporting improvements in forest governance in countries that supply the U.S. timber market. Find out more about the U.S. – Peru Trade Promotion Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, here.