Illegal Logging | WWF

Illegal Logging

The Challenge

While legality forms the foundation for responsible forest management, the practice of irresponsible and often illegal logging continues to jeopardize the future of the world's forests and our planet. Posing some of the most severe and fundamental threats to the world’s forests, illegal logging also negatively impacts people, governments, companies and the environment by:

  • Causing devastating impacts on the world’s climate;
  • Jeopardizing the raw material that the forest products sector depends on; and
  • Threatening the economic viability of responsible producers by introducing cheap, and often substandard materials into the global marketplace.

Driven by the world's appetite for cheap timber and paper products, illegal logging occurs in vast areas of forests worldwide and its associated trade is a multi-billion dollar business. According to some estimates, illegal logging accounts for 8-10% of global production and trade, with illegal logging making up 40-50% of all logging in some of the most valuable and threatened forests, in countries like Indonesia. The World Bank estimates that illegal logging is responsible for US$15 billion of lost revenue annually.

Illegal logging is the harvesting, transporting, processing, buying or selling of timber in violation of national laws. Examples include harvesting wood from protected areas, exporting CITES red-listed species, and falsifying official documents. Illegal logging may include less obvious acts such as breaking license agreements, tax evasion, corrupting government officials and interferring with access and rights to forest areas.

Illegal logging has a long list of adverse consequences:

  • Loss of significant revenues to local communities,
  • Promotion of corruption and deterioration of the rule of law,
  • Loss of critical habitat for endangered species and of other environmental services, such as erosion control and water purification,
  • Loss of livelihoods for forests people,
  • Funds violent conflict between countries or rival groups or parties, as well as tyrannical and corrupt regimes
  • Unfair competition for legal loggers
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	© WWF / Alain Compost
Illegal logging for paper industry and forest clearing for oil palm plantation.
© WWF / Alain Compost


The GFTN Stepwise Approach
Born out of the abuse of the world’s productive forests and the pressing need for better management, the GFTN was established to combat illegal logging and drive improvements in forest management, especially in what WWF today regards as our priority places, such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and Heart of Borneo.

Since the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) first published its Guide to Responsible Purchasing of Forest Products over five years ago, followed by the closely associated Keep It Legal manual there have been numerous developments in both international policy and trade.

Legislative processes in the US and Europe, such as the amended US Lacey Act and the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, as well as developments within certification and chain of custody have necessitated the enhancement of the advice available regarding legality.

The GFTN’s interactive Guide to Legal and Responsible Sourcing combines the wisdom previously contained in GFTN’s resources on legality and responsible procurement into a single, more in-depth resource to help companies navigate the complex and fast-changing regulatory and legislative landscape governing trade in timber and timber products. Only a click away, this online resource is a vital and indispensable tool to anyone who purchases forest products, including processors, importers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.

See also GFTN's guide to legal exports, the Exporting in a Shifting Legal Landscape, is aimed at companies that currently export, or intend to export, forest products to the US market. It is designed to allow companies to assess their own performance and offers advice on how they can meet the needs of their customers in the US—who are required to know that the forest products they import have been legally harvested and traded.  

Verifying Legality

Some organisations provide legality verification services within uncertified forestry operations and supply chains. At the forest end of the supply chain these include log-tracking and auditing systems that focus on activity within the forest management unit and the transport of logs to the point of delivery to the mill. Other services target the end of the supply chain by assisting traders and end-users to assess the risk that a given product contains illegally sourced wood and to manage that risk. 

Forest and Chain of Custody Certification

Forest certification can provide an assurance that forestry operations are in compliance with relevant laws. Together with a Chain of Custody certification, a forestry operation and timber buyers can track all of their logs to certified forests, and check all points in the supply chains to ensure against unreported intermingling of the certified wood with uncertified or illegally sourced wood. Learn more about certification.

Initiatives to Combat Illegal Logging

  • Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) - regional initiatives initiated through a partnership of World Bank's Forest Governance Program and the G-8 Forest Program in 2004 motivating governments to collaborate on forest law enforcement and governance and address violation of forest law.
  • The G8 - a forum of eight industrialized countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, US and Russia) which discuss major international issues. But the G8 Forestry Action Programme, agreed by the G8 foreign ministers in 1998, featured illegal logging as one of its five areas of action.  See also the G8 Illegal Logging Dialogue.
  • The Forest Dialogue (TFD) on Illegal Logging - TFD is a group of individuals from diverse interests and regions that are committed to the conservation and sustainable use of forests. 
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