Timber Legality Verification

Illegal logging harms not just the environment and local communities but also the companies that are already operating responsibly within the boundaries of existing laws and regulations. Governments worldwide are strengthening the legal frameworks that regulate the trade of wood and wood products. The Rainforest Alliance has developed standards and procedures for independent third-party verification that wood has been harvested and/or traded legally.


Want to source verified timber? See our list of active clients.

The Rainforest Alliance's legality verification standards verify the legality of the wood at the forest level and ensures the traceability of legal timber at all points in the supply chain (Chain of Custody).

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The Rainforest Alliance offers forest product companies voluntary independent third-party verification of legal status for the sources of raw material used in their products. A 2008 study by Greenpeace of various timber legality programs declared the Rainforest Alliance’s program as the top-ranked verification program.

Overview of Rainforest Alliance Timber Legality Verification

The Rainforest Alliance originally developed its legality verification program as a progressive, two-tiered system in which companies began with Verification of Legal Origin (VLO) and moved to Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC). The Rainforest Alliance has begun to phase out VLO certification and will eventually discontinue it altogether, although we maintain active VLO certificates for those companies that applied prior to July 1, 2012.

Verification of Legal Origin

Verification of Legal Origin (VLO) verifies that timber comes from a source that the harvester has a documented legal right to harvest, pursuant to the laws and regulations of the government of the jurisdiction. Suppliers of VLO timber must follow and maintain documented chain-of-custody systems.

Verification of Legal Compliance

Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC) ensures that the administrative requirements of permitting, planning, taxes or fees, and harvesting, as well as a broad range of applicable and relevant laws and regulations related to forestry, have been met.

The difference between "legal origin" and "legal compliance" is an important one. Legal origin verification signifies that a company has met the administrative requirements of permitting, planning, taxes or fees, and harvesting in defined areas only. Legal compliance encompasses a broad range of laws on environmental protection, wildlife, water and soil conservation, harvesting codes and practices, worker health and safety, and fairness to communities.

Legality verification services are available to forest management enterprises as well as to companies producing, manufacturing, trading, and selling wood products and to companies wishing to verify the sources of products they purchase. Learn more about the verification processes for forest management enterprises and the wood processing industry.

United States Lacey Act and the European Union Due Diligence Regulation

Rainforest Alliance legality verification provides important support for companies to demonstrate due care/due diligence in their sourcing of wood and wood products. Such demonstration of due care can assist companies in reducing the risk of importing, exporting or trading illegal timber, acts which are now punishable by law in the United States (Lacey Act amendment) and the European Union (EU Timber Regulation).

Lacey Act and the 2008 Farm Bill (includes an amendment to the Lacey Act)

The Lacey Act of 1900 is a conservation law in the United States designed to protect plants and animals through criminal penalties. The act was passed by President McKinley in 1900. In 2008, the US Congress passed The Food, Conservation and Energy Act, which contained a provision(section 8204) that amended the Lacey Act of 1900 by strengthening measures to combat illegal logging and expanding anti-trafficking protections to cover a broader range of plant species and plant products. Find out more about the Lacey Act of 1900 here.

European Union Timber Regulations (EUTR)

In order to stop illegal timber from entering the EU market, the European Union Commission added the EU Timber Regulations (EUTR) to their existing Forest Law, Enforcement, Governance and Trade action plan in 2008. The European Union formally adopted the EUTR’s mandatory regulations in 2012 (with implementation scheduled for March 2013) on companies importing timber products into the EU.

The EUTR is more detailed than the Lacey Act. It requires organizations importing forest materials into the EU to develop and implement a due diligence system (DDS) for all of its timber imports. Operators can employ the help of monitoring organizations to provide and/or evaluate the due diligence system; however the operator is always responsible for implementation and therefore liable to any kind of legal action. Competent authorities within each member state implement and monitor the regulation. Find out more about the EUTR here.

A Phased Approach to FSC Certification

SmartStep: A Phased Approach to FSC Certification

These verification services would involve audits of forest areas if required, but they do not result in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. The Rainforest Alliance considers legality verification as a first step towards FSC certification only. We therefore encourage verified organizations to undertake activities to attain full certification. For forest managers who wish to enter into a formal stepwise approach to FSC certification, we offer support and third-party evaluation of progress towards this goal through our SmartStep program.

The Rainforest Alliance Legality Verification Program is applicable to forest sources (forest management enterprises), processors, manufacturers, traders, and suppliers of wood products within a supply chain or verified as a single entity.

The process of verification may include the following steps:

Legality Assessment and Monitoring: Companies that buy a variety of wood products from a number of suppliers and producers may not know the sources or associated risks of the forest products they purchase. These companies may need to perform an analysis of their wood product supply chains. By working with our SmartSource Program, a company can avoid illegally harvested wood and procure more non-controversial and certified supply. With a clear understanding of risks and opportunities, a company can establish a responsible purchasing program and work with its supply chain to obtain legality verification and/or certification—and monitor progress in this regard.

Legality verification for forest managers: This option is for organizations that directly manage forests and want to provide the extra assurance to the market that their timber products are legally harvested and traded. Regular on-site audits of the forestry operation against the VLO or VLC standard are required for maintaining verification status. The Rainforest Alliance will compare required documents against on-the-ground practices and applicable legislation before awarding permission to use the Rainforest Alliance Verified Mark™ and claim.

Legality verification for processing industry and traders: This verification is intended for manufacturers and traders who want to demonstrate that their wood products originate from legal sources and that they operate legally. It requires regular on-site auditing against the applicable Rainforest Alliance standard for Chain of Custody to determine the integrity of documentation and procedures for identifying and tracking verified wood throughout processing and trade. Sometimes this will require audits of specific upstream suppliers or traders, as well as forests that do not already have a VLO or VLC Verification Statement.

Groups and Multi-Site verification: Multi-site verification allows for the grouping of multiple sites to be covered under the scope of a single Verification Statement. This option is most applicable to organizations with the capacity to manage and oversee larger supply chains. Multi-site or group verification allows more flexibility in adding and removing sites from the scope of the verification, and it reduces the overall cost of verification per unit.

How to Apply for Verification

Verification of a candidate operation can occur in isolation (a single Forest Management Unit or processing facility) or as part of a more complex supply chain that includes several sources and/or processing facilities. The Rainforest Alliance will verify Chain of Custody back to the forest source through all entities included in the scope of the specific supply chain.

The steps for participating in the Rainforest Alliance's Verification of Legal Compliance services include the following:

  1. The candidate completes an application.
  2. Based on the application, the Rainforest Alliance will supply the applicant with a proposal to carry out a verification of the company facilities or wood sources as identified.
  3. Based on a mutual agreement, Rainforest Alliance will then move to the actual on-site verification audit as outlined in our client guides for forest management enterprises and the wood processing industry, respectively.

Please contact us with any questions you may have.

The generic Verification of Legal Origin (VLO) and Compliance (VLC) standards are global in scope and are applicable to forest managers, traders, producers and suppliers of forest products either as individual companies or as parts of a defined supply chain. Regionally or nationally adapted standards are developed for the legal frameworks specific to the areas in which they are applied. These standards will follow the framework of our generic legality standards and will be adapted to account for relevant laws, regulations, acts, and decrees defined for the given jurisdiction. These versions will draw from existing multi-stakeholder processes or definitions of legality, as they exist, and will be developed through consultation with stakeholders. We actively solicit comments on these standards and appreciate your input. Links to these VLO/VLC standards are organized by country and region below.

Standards and Policies

Generic Standards
Generic Standard for VLO
[English | Español]
Used for verification of legal origin for Forest Management Enterprise (FME). Compliance related to administrative requirements of permitting, planning, taxes or fees, and harvesting in defined areas is evaluated. This generic standard needs to be adapted for each country before the actual evaluation of FME.
Generic Standard for VLC
[English | Español ]
Used for verification of legal compliance for Forest Management Enterprise (FME). In addition to the aspects of legality included in VLO, VLC encompasses applicable laws relevant to environmental protection, wildlife, water and soil conservation, harvesting codes and practices, worker health and safety, and fairness to communities. This generic standard needs to be adapted for each country before the actual evaluation of FME.
Generic Standard for Processing and Trade
[English]
Generic Legality Standard to be used for companies that would like to be verified for purchasing, handling, processing, and/or selling of products verified against the Rainforest Alliance’s Verification of Legal Origin (VLO) or Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC) standards.

Draft Standards for Consultation

Generic Standards
Generic Standard for VLC Under Consultation
[EnglishFrançais]
Used for review under consultation.
Generic Standard for Processing and Trade Under Consultation
[English]
Used for review under consultation


Country and Region Legality Standards
China Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC)
July 22, 2011 [English | 中文 (Chinese)]

Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
January 30, 2010 [English | 中文 (Chinese)]
Indonesia Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC)
July 31, 2013 [English]

Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
July 31, 2013 [English]
Honduras Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
August 16, 2010 [Spanish]
Philippines Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
February 19, 2008 [English]
Brazil Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
February 25, 2010 [Português]
Sabah, Malaysia Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC)
February 9, 2010 [English]

Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
February 9, 2010 [English]
Sarawak, Malaysia Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
October 27, 2010 [English]
Laos Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
June 1, 2010 [English]|[Laotian]
India Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
November 17, 2010 [English]
Papua New Guinea Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC)
October 24, 2013 [English]
Guyana Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
January 16, 2014 [English]
Gabon Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC) - DRAFT FOR PUBLIC CONSULTATION
July 9, 2013 [Français]
Democratic Republic of Congo Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Origin (VLO)
December 9, 2011 [Français]
Cameroon Rainforest Alliance Standard for Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC) in Cameroon - DRAFT FOR PUBLIC CONSULTATION
March 13, 2014 [Français]


Timber Legality Verification Service Policies
VLO and VLC Verification Service Policies
[English]
Verification Service Policies: Rainforest Alliance policies related to legality verification (VLO/VLC)

Advice Notes and Guidance

VLO-VLC Client Guide to Services for Forest Management Enterprises A short guide for existing and potential forest management enterprise clients describing the background and procedures of VLO and VLC verification. [English | 中文 (Chinese)]
VLO-VLC Client Guide to Services for Processors A short guide for existing and potential processing industry clients describing the background and procedures of VLO and VLC verification. [English | 中文 (Chinese)]
VLO-VLC Service Summary A short summary introducing the Rainforest Alliance Legality Verification program. [English | Español | 中文 (Chinese) | Français | Bahasa | 日本語 (Japanese) | 한국어 (Korean) | Việt]