Keep Liberia’s illegal timber out of the EU!

Truck loaded with logs in Liberia Logging in Liberia (© Global Witness)

The EU has signed a timber trade agreement with Liberia, but buying from its deeply corrupt logging industry is bad for the country's development and worse for its rainforest. Tell the EU to keep timber from Liberia’s fundamentally illegal logging concessions out of Europe. Please join our protest and sign our petition to the EU.

Call to action

To: European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica, the governments of the Member States

All of Liberia’s major logging contracts are fundamentally illegal. The EU must make it clear that it will not allow timber from those contracts into Europe.

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Liberia has a unique natural treasure: the small West African country is home to 40 percent of the incredibly biodiverse Upper Guinean Rainforest. This forest shelters a crucial population of critically endangered West African Chimpanzees.

The country – which is still reeling from a civil war and the Ebola crisis – intends to fight poverty by exporting timber. Yet this could lead to uncontrolled destruction of rainforests. According to “Hold the Line”, a study published by environmental and anti-corruption NGO Global Witness, all of Liberia’s large logging contracts are fundamentally illegal.

Some logging companies obscure their actual, “beneficial” owners, including influential politicians who are prohibited by law from profiting from the timber trade. Companies have also co-opted concessions meant to benefit local communities. Furthermore, the timber industry manipulates logging data on a massive scale and has failed to pay $25 million in taxes.

“Logging companies have lied, cheated, and stolen from the Liberian people,” says Jonathan Gant of Global Witness.

The EU is implementing a timber trade agreement with Liberia. According to this Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), the EU will import timber without further control if Liberia guarantees its legality. There is little chance that this will work: it is extremely likely that the industry will launder logs from illegal concessions and that timber from predatory exploitation will find its way onto the European market. 

Liberian conservationists nevertheless believe that the system can help protect forests. Their work has benefited from the VPA negotiations and they are now fighting the illegal concessions.

Please call on the European Commission and the Member States to stop the import of timber from illegal Liberian concessions.

Back­ground

Global Witness issued the following press release to mark the publication of the study “Hold the Line”:

Logging companies have lied, cheated, and stolen from the Liberian people  

14 February 2017

A new Global Witness exposé reveals how Liberian logging companies are illegally hiding their true owners, among them powerful politicians who are profiting from contracts that cover huge swathes of forest. 

The report, Hold the Line, describes how all of Liberia’s large logging contracts are fundamentally illegal, having violated multiple laws including a ban on politicians owning companies with logging contracts. Some of these violations date back nearly a decade to when the contracts were issued. 

If the Liberian government and its international partners are to turn the page on the country’s history of corruption and conflict timber they must hold accountable politicians and loggers who are exploiting Liberia’s forests and people. 

“Logging companies have lied, cheated, and stolen from the Liberian people and must be held accountable,” said Jonathan Gant with Global Witness. “Rather than helping Liberia rebuild after its war and the recent Ebola epidemic, almost all of Liberia’s loggers are failing to pay their taxes – essentially stealing from the Liberian people.” 

Global Witness’ investigations into Liberia’s logging companies found that:

  • Companies are hiding their owners. In an effort to root out corrupt deals, the Liberian government requires logging companies to declare their real, or “beneficial,” owners. However, in 2015 when the government demanded this information, the companies behind half of Liberia’s logging contracts ignored the demand: five failed to provide the government with any information, while one company filed incorrect data, hiding that it is actually owned by powerful politicians.
  • Companies are failing to pay their taxes, currently owing an immense US$ 25 million to the cash-strapped Liberian government, which if paid would amount to nearly five percent of Liberia’s entire budget. 
  • Companies have illegally manipulated their logging data on a massive scale, concealing how many trees they are actually felling. (1)
  • Companies are co-opting community forest licenses – government permits designed help rural people manage their forests. Evidence shows that five large community licenses have been awarded illegally, with companies encouraging people who do not represent communities to obtain licenses for large forests without first doing the required mapping and socio-economic surveys. (2)

Liberia is home to 40 percent of West Africa’s best remaining forest, the Upper Guinean Rainforest. During Liberia’s civil war, which ended in 2003, logging companies propped up the regime of Charles Taylor and trafficked arms.

Following the war, Liberia and its partners – including the EU, Norway, the US, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – worked to reform the sector. These reforms have resulted in both better laws and increased government capacity, but also in new logging licenses covering ten percent of the country, 

“Liberia’s forest reform programmes have been good for the country and should be supported,” said Gant. “But the Liberian government and international donors must also face up to the fact that big logging companies are corrupting Liberia in a way which threatens to unravel progress on the country’s hard-fought gains.”  

Hold the Line also describes how Liberia and its partners can confront illegal logging companies and ensure that their reform programs work. Key among these recommendations are: 

  • The EU, which has signed a treaty with Liberia promoting trade in legal timber called a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, should make clear it will not allow timber from Liberia’s current large contracts into Europe.
  • Norway, which has signed a US$ 150 million deal with Liberia promoting community forestry and conservation, should ensure Liberia investigates and cancels illegal contracts as the country promised in the deal.
  • The Liberian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which requires natural resource companies to declare their real, or “beneficial,” owners should penalize companies that have failed to report or reported incorrect ownership information.

Notes 

(1) The Liberian government has denied that companies have manipulated data, although investigations conducted by the company tracking Liberian timber – SGS – concluded that loggers were doing so.  

(2) The government has denied that any community forest licenses have been awarded illegally.             

Letter

To: European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica, the governments of the Member States

Dear Commissioner Neven Mimica,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Liberia is home to a unique natural treasure: the small West African country hosts 40 percent of the incredibly biodiverse Upper Guinean Rainforest. This forest shelters a crucial population of the critically endangered West African Chimpanzees.

The EU is working on the implementation of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) under the FLEGT action plan in the West African country.

According to the study “Hold the Line” published by the environmental and anti-corruption organization Global Witness, all of Liberia‘s large logging contracts are fundamentally illegal.

• Companies are obscuring their actual, “beneficial” owners, including powerful politicians who are barred by Liberian law from profiting from logging activities.

• Companies are failing to pay their taxes. This adds up to US$ 25 million, equal to nearly five percent of Liberia’s entire budget.

• Companies have illegally manipulated their logging data on a massive scale, concealing how many trees they are actually felling.

According to the Voluntary Partnership Agreement, the EU will import timber from Liberia without further control if Liberia guarantees that it is legally sourced. Based on the Global Witness report there is little hope that this will work. It is extremely likely that logs from illegal concessions will be laundered and timber from predatory exploitation will find its way onto the EU market.

The EU should make clear it will not allow timber from Liberia’s current large contracts into Europe. The EU should help Liberia investigate its illegal logging contracts, and cancel such illegal contracts.

Sincerely,

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