Have You Bought Timber Products from Illegal Sources?


Every time you buy raw timber or a wooden product in the UK, whether it’s at a big brand DIY store, wood furniture warehouse or your local timber shop, you’re guaranteed it comes from renewable sources…right? Not so. It appears British consumers are in the dark about the origin of the timber products they buy, and illegal timber logging is a scandal in the making.

Got wood? Do you know where it came from?

We thought you’d appreciate finding out how little you actually know about the source of timber and wooden goods in this country, if there’s a way to tell you really are buying legal, sustainable wood and what’s being done about the issue.

Illegal timber logging – Your right to know the origin of wood

These days we expect to know the origin of the things we buy, and whether or not their production causes damage to the environment, people’s livelihoods and so on. But right now we can’t identify the sources used by some of the nation’s biggest timber consumers. And the Worldwide Fund for Nature is on the warpath.

The charity carried out extensive research into 26 products from 17 companies, not one of whom could give any evidence they’d acted with ‘sufficient due diligence’ to confirm the timber was from sustainable sources. The exception was Cargo, although the information was supplied in Chinese so wasn’t much use to UK consumers.

A shocking seven of the businesses analysed were selling wood products from ‘high-risk species’ of tree, and eight products weren’t made of the wood the labelling claimed…they didn’t do exactly what it said on the tin.

The WWF is disgusted, claiming Britain can’t “continue to have a market where customers cannot be sure the product they buy is made from the wood declared. In the absence of better information from companies that their wood has come from a legally or sustainably logged forest, customers are in the dark.”

The resulting WWF report demands EU Timber Regulation reforms. The scheme, which is supposed to mean companies ensure the wood their goods are made from comes from legal sources, is flawed and currently only covers 59% of the wood products imported into the EU. The WWF is also calling for “far more transparency on sourcing practices and performance.”

Right now a whole lot of British companies are legally selling products made from illegally logged wood. Your business might be one of them, but you won’t know a thing about it. Nor will your customers.

Luckily plenty of businesses are on the WWF’s side and forty or so have already signed up for a new, hard-hitting campaign to help businesses take their responsibilities seriously.

The facts about illegal timber logging

The worldwide trade in roundwood, paper, furniture, and other products originating from illegal timber is a multi-million pound behemoth. There are plenty of laws to control logging and stop sales of wood products from illegal sources. But they’re often broken, and they could be amended to work a lot harder in protecting the future of the planet’s forests.

Illegal logging puts enormous pressure on the forests themselves as well as the creatures and people who live there. Deforestation contributes to climate change, which in turn threatens a host of creatures – including us – with extinction. Illegal logging undercuts legitimate timber companies’ prices, putting them at risk when we need more sustainable businesses, not fewer. It diverts essential income earmarked for sustainable development and causes conflict. It’s even linked to nasty things like organised crime, corruption and money laundering.

The EU has gone so far to deal with the issue, now it’s stuck. More needs to be done. It looks like anything between 15-30% of all wood traded globally is illegally logged. The UK is the EU’s second-biggest importer of illegal timber, which means a considerable part of the total buck stops with us.

If you’d like to know more about the havoc wreaked by illegal forest clearance, here’s a video…

Read the WWF Timber Testing Report

If you’d like to read the WWF report for yourself, follow this link.

Discover the Global Forest and Trade Network

The Global Forest & Trade Network was set up way back in 1999. It’s a major WWF initiative to combat illegal logging and improve the forest products sector, helping businesses overcome forest management challenges. As part of the campaign WWF promotes forest certification through the Forest Stewardship Council.

Join the WWF Forest Campaign

The Forest Campaign wants to make responsible forest trade the norm. Working alongside businesses, they want to transform UK and EU timber markets so businesses will benefit from secure long-term supplies, and people and animals will thrive in the forests they depend on.

Companies in the wood business that wish to  sign up to the Forest Campaign can do so here.

Illegal deforestation and contraband goods in the EU

The illegal wood scandal is one thing. Here’s a closely-related issue, revealing how a joined-up approach is the only way to protect the world’s forests from the multiple risks they face. It looks like wood isn’t the only illegally produced stuff causing ructions…which means the world’s precious forests – the planet’s lungs – are under threat from more than one direction.

Did you know there’s also a chance you’ve been eating contraband food and buying illegal goods without even realising it? The European NGO FERN claims Europeans frequently and innocently buy produce from illegally cleared tropical forests, and it appears Europe is the world’s biggest importer of illegal agricultural goods. In the EU a shocking 15% of imported beef is from illegally cleared land, 25% of EU soy imports are grown on illegally deforested plots, as is 18% of the palm oil and 31% of the leather.

Strangely, the EU’s governments are already capable of outlawing the illicit clearance of forests for farming. How do we know? It’s because the current EU ban on importing illegal timber is already helping stamp out illegal forest clearance. Which makes today’s news about illegal timber in the UK even more shocking.

So there we have it, a couple of issues which definitely need addressing. Otherwise knowing the source of wooden goods and raw timber – while a wholly worthy cause – isn’t going to make as much difference to illegal deforestation as it could and perhaps should. As long as this illegal activity continues, buying many of the other products we take for granted will never be a properly-informed decision and, for the time being at least, we’ll remain in the dark.

WWF move on timber from illegal sources

Because wood sits at the very heart of our business we have a vested interest in a sustainable timber industry.

We like to think that our customers make informed choices when they buy wooden products, the same way we do when choosing which wood finishing products to sell.

Whether you want to bring a beautiful piece of contemporary hardwood furniture back to magnificent life or maintain your garden decking, you deserve good wood from the moral high ground. That’s why it’s good to hear that the WWF is taking action to help everyone understand the source of timber and close those exploited loopholes. Here’s to the forests!

How can you tell if the wooden goods you buy are legal?

Tough laws are important if the world’s governments want to win the battle against the illegal timber trade. At the moment it’s hard to pin down the origin of wood and things made from it. With good fortune and hard work, things should soon become clearer.

In the meantime you can help by buying wood and wood products you know for sure are from responsible sources, in other words those displaying the FSC logo. Here’s a link to their list of certified suppliers.

If you want to delve deeper into the subject, you’ll find the UK Government’s Timber Procurement Policy here.

Here’s some information about sourcing sustainable wood, from the Forestry Commission.

And here’s a link to our blog post, Everything You Should Know About Sustainable Wood.

Express yourself

This is important stuff. Do you have any insights into how to know if wood is legal, or tips about other useful and interesting resources? If so we’d love it if you shared them with our readers. Leave a comment below.


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