RAFT STORIES - Responsible Timber Sourcing

New Rules of the Game


Helping governments and businesses understand and follow the rules of the timber trade.

Laws of the Lands

The last decade or so has brought good news for those who see illegal logging as a global responsibility and for consumers concerned about their purchasing choices negatively impacting ecosystems and communities on the other side of the world.

A key development has been the introduction of legislation to prohibit trade in illegal wood and paper products in high value markets such as Australia, Europe, and the United States.

These new laws represent a major milestone in international efforts to curb illegal logging by holding importers of wood and paper products in those markets accountable for ensuring compliance with relevant legislation, not just in their own country but along their entire supply chain. Importers that purchase wood or paper products tainted by illegal activity face the possibility of a range of punitive measures—from fines, to seizures, to jail time—no matter where the violation takes place.

These laws have had a major knock-on effect in the Asia Pacific region. Not only have suppliers started to realize the need to take action to gain and maintain access to these markets, there’s also a growing awareness among buyers of the importance of maintaining healthy forests for the wide range of benefits they provide for the economies, individuals and biodiversity they support.

However, many companies have struggled to understand and demonstrate compliance with relevant laws both at home and internationally.

Not your Average Shopping List

In order to help companies understand and comply with these new requirements, RAFT partners WWF and TRAFFIC, have developed a framework designed to spell out what it means to operate legally within the countries where companies are doing business or where they are trading.

The Common Legality Framework is a simple checklist designed to help governments and companies access and understand relevant laws, regulations and obligations that affect forestry operations, wood and paper processing and trade. When the Common Legality Framework is applied to a specific country, it is known as a National Legality Framework.

National Legality Frameworks are developed in consultation with a range of forestry stakeholders in each country, including representatives from government, research institutes, the private sector, and NGOs.

“It has been a long time coming to develop the political agenda as well as public awareness that legality is the first step towards sustainability,” says Chen Hin Keong, TRAFFIC’s Timber Trade Programme Leader. “These frameworks are especially important now because of growing interest in this subject both from the general public and at a government level.”

The frameworks support countries’ efforts to combat illegal timber trade in a number of ways.

They can be used to strengthen the design and implementation of national harvest, manufacturing and trade controls in source countries by providing an overview of existing relevant legislation all in one place and helping to identify gaps and shortcomings that should be addressed. This may sound simple, but with anything from getting the right licenses and paying the required fees for cutting a tree down, to how wood and products are transported, to workplace health and safety, to environmental laws, on the table, this covers a lot of ground.

They also offer guidance to companies on meeting legal requirements and inform the design of  targeted capacity building to help businesses understand and adhere to international and national timber legality requirements and as part of a stepwise approach towards certification.

In short, they aim to support the constructive participation of all stakeholders in national processes to map out and verify national timber harvest and trade controls.

“The checklist is very simple. It is easy for companies and other stakeholders to look at the legality options along the supply chain to make sure that all the documentation required is available,” says Hin Keong. “The multi-stakeholder consultation process is designed to capture the relevant legislation, procedures and contractual obligations that companies and other stakeholders should be aware of when they need to meet the legal requirements of the country they are operating in.”

A Familiar Framework 

The Common Legality Framework is composed of a set of nine principles: access, use rights & tenure; harvesting; transportation; processing; import & export; environmental; conservation; social; and, taxes, fees & royalties.

Each principle is supported by one or more criteria.  For example, for principle two on harvesting regulations, one of the three criteria supporting this principle stipulates that there should be a Forest Management Plan in accordance with the relevant government’s policies, guidelines and regulatory requirements, approved by the relevant authority.

When developed for use within a national context, the criteria are further supported by nationally appropriate indicators and guidance notes specific to that country, based on the existing legislative base, that are practical, easily implemented on the ground and readily auditable.

The combination of principles, criteria and national indicators is a format widely used within forest certification and generally accepted by civil society, industry and government, with potential application in a number national processes.

Take the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) negotiation processes that many countries in the region are undergoing with the European Union as an important example. Timber Legality Assurance Systems (TLAS) designed as part of a VPA have five components; a definition of legally-produced timber; control of supply chain; verification; issuance of licenses; and, independent monitoring of the system.

The National Legality Frameworks can inform the development of a legality definition and supply chain controls under a VPA, as they capture relevant laws of the country from forest to trade, as well as aspects of control systems currently in place. The Frameworks also include the institutions responsible for issuing licenses and registration requirements within the existing system, and can provide useful information for auditing and monitoring purposes.

In short, the Frameworks provide an overview of the existing legality infrastructure in a generally standardized format to help make information on legality more accessible, and provide what is often a broader definition of legality that reflects the views of a range of stakeholders.

By making available the information buyers need to confidently supply their customers with legal timber, the National Legality Frameworks are helping to ensure the effectiveness of important regulatory measures, addressing incentives along the entire supply chain.