Human rights due diligence required in tropical logging

REPORT | 21 February 2019

The clearing of tropical forests is associated with high risks of impacts on human rights, biodiversity and climate. Still, logging companies operating in the Congo Basin are not sufficiently addressing these risks, a report by Swedwatch and SSNC finds.

Sustainable management of the world’s tropical forests is critical for reducing poverty for the 1.6 billion people who rely on forests for their livelihoods, and for ensuring global climate stability. However, tropical forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. While land conversion for agriculture has become the largest driver of deforestation, illegal and unsustainable logging are also major contributors to the ongoing destruction of forests and biodiversity.

In the new report Undercutting rights – Human rights and environmental due diligence in the tropical forestry sector. A case study from Cameroon, Swedwatch and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) investigate human rights impacts associated with industrial logging in Cameroon, a country host to 10 percent of the Congo Basin forest – the second-largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon. Unless current patterns of infrastructure development and natural resource exploitation in the forest are curbed, the Congo Basin is expected to lose 70 percent of its remaining forest cover by 2040.

The report presents results from research in ten communities impacted by three operations: a short-term operation in which independent monitoring indicated cases of illegal logging in 2017, and two long-term selective logging operations, forest management certified or legality certified under the voluntary Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Findings indicate that all ten communities were adversely affected and that impacts ranged from irreversible deforestation and displacement to negative effects on wildlife and small-scale agriculture. The report also found that vulnerable groups, particularly girls and indigenous peoples, were disproportionately affected.

While conducting research in Cameroon in 2018, Swedwatch learned that the logging companies Wijma (the Netherlands) and Rougier (France) had recently exited from their concessions and sold their assets to companies without certification commitments. This development illustrates an uphill struggle, as described in recent literature, for companies with more ambitious sustainability ambitions to cope with difficulties in the operating environment in Cameroon and elsewhere – and to find markets prepared to pay a premium for certified timber.

All in all, findings clearly illustrate that tropical forestry remains a high-risk sector where business activities may impact on unique tropical forests and the livelihoods and human rights of marginalised groups and that also in FSC certified operations, logging activities may come with negative impacts on people and forests. This suggests that certification schemes such as the FSC – which is globally considered to have the highest environmental and social standards in the timber sector – cannot replace human rights and environmental due diligence in line with international norms and standards

In order to ensure ‘no harm’ to communities and their forest livelihoods, the report calls for tropical logging companies to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence, where care should be taken to ensure broad-based community consultation, and for importers and buyers of tropical timber to use their leverage to ensure that suppliers conduct and transparently disclose environmental and human rights due diligence.