Why is Jewson selling timber that's been plundered from the Amazon?

Posted by Richardg — 15 May 2014 at 12:23pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace
Stacks of ipe timber in Jewson's supplier's lumber yard

Illegal logging is the norm in the Brazilian Amazon, where timber laundering - covering illegal timber with phony papers - happens on an industrial scale. So why is the DIY chain Jewson selling garden decking made from rare Amazon trees?

No one wants to decorate their garden with timber stolen from the Amazon rainforest. But when you buy timber from some parts of Brazil, that's what you're likely to get.

Almost 80% of logging in the state of Pará is illegal, and loggers and sawmills have clever scams that give illegal timber a cover story. There's simply no way of telling if whether timber is legal or not, because it all comes with the same official paperwork.

So we were shocked to discover that the DIY chain Jewson was selling decking made from ipe, a rare tree found in the Amazon.

Jewson gets its ipe from International Timber, and both companies are part of the Saint Gobain group.

Ten years ago, we caught Jewson selling plywood made from illegal timber stolen from the Indonesian rainforest. Surely, we thought, they wouldn't be making the same mistakes.

We were wrong.

Our undercover team visited International Timber's depot in Purfleet, Kent. They asked what guarantees International Timber could give that the ipe decking it sold was legal.

A spokesperson told us that it was really hard to get good paperwork from Brazil, especially from the area around Belem, a port in Pará, which is where their ipe comes from. But instead of trying harder, International admitted to buying the timber without any third-party checks to verify the chain of custody. Listen to the recording below.

The Guardian asked Jewson the same question - how could it prove its timber was legal?

Jewson said that it had all sorts of paperwork for the timber it sold, including "the validated authorisation of the landowner with the document which defines the longitude and latitude areas and volume of the area, together with the sale agreement between the landowner and logger: GF3 and DOF."

But these are all part of the same verification system that the logging industry uses to launder illegal timber. The same paperwork that an International Timber salesman admitted to our researcher was "not worth much more than what it's written on."

This is outrageous, but it may also be illegal.

Since March 2013, companies are only allowed to import timber into Europe if they are absolutely certain that it isn't illegal. If they're buying from somewhere like Pará that's awash with fake papers, then they have to carry out other checks to make sure the timber's legit. If they can't be absolutely certain, they must cancel the sale.

Jewson and International Timber can't pretend they didn't know what was going on in the Amazon.

An EU-funded guide to complying with these laws when buying timber from Brazil explains the risks. It advises companies to visit logging sites themselves and to get independent checks to complement the papers from the government - neither of which International Timber of Jewson seems to have bothered to do.

We've asked the government's timber regulators, the National Measurements Office, to investigate Jewson and International Timber, as well as the other companies importing and selling timber from the Brazilian Amazon. But that will take time, and all the while the crisis in the Amazon keeps getting worse.

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