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New Rainforest Alliance Standards Verify Companies' Wood Purchases as Legal

January 26, 2010

Illegal logging throughout the world's forests continues to undermine efforts to promote social equity, environmental conservation and sustainable economic growth in many nations. In developing countries alone, it has been suggested that illegal logging may result in lost assets and revenues of more than US $10 billion annually. To address the problem of illegal logging, the Rainforest Alliance released at the Chatham House Illegal Logging Forum in London last week updated timber legality verification standards to help companies protect their supply chains and comply with new laws.

While it is difficult to accurately quantify the extent of illegal logging, estimates in some countries indicate that illegally harvested timber exceeds that of legally harvested. The social impact of illegal logging is significant, contributing to poverty and resource inequity while jeopardizing the natural resources on which many people rely.

Increased efforts have been undertaken on international, national and private levels to address the problem of illegal logging. In the United States, the government has amended the Lacey Act to include a ban on illegally harvested wood and wood products. The European Commission's Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) has focused on promoting the availability, utilization and trade in legal forest products imported by the European Union (EU). New regulations are under development to define the requirements for timber importers who place wood and wood products in the EU markets.

Increasingly, committed businesses that want to eliminate destructive and illegal forest products from their supply chains are creating purchasing policies and seeking independent legality verification and independent forest monitoring.

"In order for those voluntary initiatives to be credible, third-party auditing is critical," said Christian Sloth, verification services manager for the Rainforest Alliance. "We developed standards for verification of legality to respond to a growing need for companies to provide assurances -- to customers, owners, investors, or the general public -- that answer questions about the legal status of timber sources."

The Rainforest Alliance approach to legality includes a step-by-step approach starting with two levels of legality assurance. The first level is a Verification of Legal Origin (VLO). Verification of Legal Origin (VLO) verifies that timber comes from a source that has a documented legal right to harvest, according to the laws and regulations of the local government. Suppliers of VLO timber must follow and maintain documented chain-of-custody systems.

The second level of legality verification is called Verification of Legal Compliance (VLC). The VLC standard expands upon the basic component of VLO by verifying that timber harvesting complies with all applicable laws and regulations related to forestry, including laws relating to environmental protection, wildlife, water and soil conservation, harvesting rules, worker health and safety, and fairness to communities.

In 2007, Greenpeace carried out an evaluation of existing legality verification standards and the Rainforest Alliance's legality verification program received the highest score of all systems evaluated.

The Rainforest Alliance verification program has developed quickly over the past year. The program has verified almost 20 companies and forests in Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. New verification clients are under evaluation in Laos, China, Paraguay and Congo.

As a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-accredited certifier, the Rainforest Alliance recognizes FSC certification as a core element to a sound company purchasing policy. However, for companies with extremely complex supply chains, it can take time to "green" their supply chain and increase volumes of certified supply. Companies that have requirements (voluntary or mandatory) to demonstrate progress in increasing the percentages of legal and sustainable forest products can work with the Rainforest Alliance's forestry team to establish a sourcing plan. There are many steps to this -- phasing out unknown and uncertified wood; phasing in known, legal, or controlled wood (as per FSC standards); sourcing from those engaged in a stepwise program for certification, such as the Rainforest Alliance's SmartStep program.

"By working within the realm of sources that have the potential to be legal and sustainable, we can increase the amount of responsibly managed forests over the long run," said Sloth.

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