WWF works with Interpol to prevent forest crime
Strengthening Networks and Investigation for a More Effective Implementation of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR)
Forest crime is a growing problem with links to organised crime and corruption - ranking 3rd in transnational crime in 2017. In 2013, the EU adopted the European Timber Regulation (EUTR) to halt illegal logging. However, loopholes in the EUTR and implementation gaps in Member States have hindered a real change in practice. The project aims to enable effective law enforcement by stimulating networks that are able to detect forest crime and respond to it. It will place forest crime high on their agenda. The innovation lies in bringing together INTERPOL’s law enforcement expertise with WWF’s practical experience in supporting companies to avoid illegal wood. Strategies to boost law enforcement and investigations will include information sharing, awareness-raising, capacity- building and investigative mentorship. Tailored trainings of police, customs, environmental authorities, prosecutors and judges will cover knowledge-sharing on new forensic methods – a technique in which WWF has leading know-how – and guidance for effective controls by authorities. The project will empower civil society to be a knowledgeable partner for authorities.
The project will combine expertise from WWF and INTERPOL to set up a new, stronger approach. Expertise from both organisations will combine to produce a new favourable starting point that will motivate and stimulate stakeholders to send strong and dissuasive signals to the criminal wood business. Furthermore, the project has been harmonised with the efforts of EUROPOL and UNEP.
Project partners include: WWF-CEE, WWF-Germany, Interpol, WWF-Romania, WWF-France, WWF-Belgium, WWF-EPO and WWF-Bulgaria. In Belgium and France trainings will focus on products with complex Chains of Custody. France and Belgium are typical “consumer-countries” that import products from countries with higher risk like Africa or China combined with complex chains of custody. Products are often imported via big and not easy to control harbours. In Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Ukraine the project will focus on illegal logging within the EU and on transboundary forest crime.
Illegal logging is a recognised problem in the Danube-Carpathian Region, threatening Europe’s last primeval forests. Illegal wood is infiltrating the timber market by means of corruption, fraud and falsification of paperwork along the supply chain. Illegal logging floods the market with cheap wood, suppressing global timber prices by 716% due to the evasion of legal costs such as taxes, licences and permits. This results in significant losses to timber companies attempting to source their timber legally and otherwise operate within the law.
The implementation of EUTR is slow. Obstacles include corruption, poverty and organised crime. There is a growing social movement in the region against illegal logging, encouraged by the fact that forest crime is targeting the national forests, and therefore economies and also identities. The project will support these societal tendencies. In 2017 for the first time, the European Commission has taken legal action against an EU Member State (Belgium) for not enforcing the EUTR properly.
Often, the main obstacle for combating illegal logging in Europe is the lack of adequate implementation and enforcement of national legislation. Experts confirm that the EUTR, in place since 2013, is not nearly as effective hoped. Different reasons have been identified or assumed at both the EU and national level such as EU law enforcement officers facing low wages, little training, poor equipment, and insufficient staff or budget.
The project will identify gaps linked to EUTR and support the forest governance and enforcement frameworks necessary to combat crime across the regional forest sector, thereby improving the transparency, governance and legality in forested target countries in Europe. It will make governments more accountable; improve linkages with INTERPOL, and increase transparency to other member countries and organisations.