Audits could curb illegal logging
The Indonesian Forestry Ministry's bold move to require forestry companies to have their wood stocks audited throughout the supply chain to ensure the wood is derived from sustainably managed forests could go a long way in reducing illegal logging in the country.
Hadi Pasaribu, the Forestry Ministry's director general for the management of forestry production, who revealed the new policy recently, did not elaborate as to when the audit -- internationally known as forest certification scheme -- would be mandatory for wood-based companies.
But surely the new measure needs thorough preparation because the audit or certification process requires independent certifiers who must be accredited according to the international standards as those applied by the Bonn-based Forest Stewardship Council.
It is international market forces (consumers and traders) united into a global green consumer campaign that have forced wood-based companies to have their wood certified as green by independent certifying companies.
Hence, whatever the system used by the Forestry Ministry for the wood audit, an inspection or certification scheme, it must be based on international standards to gain international recognition.
Wood audit for forest certification aims at verifying that a particular wood is derived from sustainably managed forests. This process requires companies in the whole wood supply chain to hold chain-of-custody certificates so that the label or bar-code can follow the word from the forests to the finished product.
The chain of custody itself is the process of wood harvesting, primary and secondary processing, manufacturing, distribution and sales. The wood audit, as referred to by Pasaribu, inspects each of these processing steps to ensure that the timber or wood originated from forests which are being managed in accordance with social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainable forest management.
Hence, for example, a buyer of a wood cupboard from a furniture store in Denmark which sells certified green products is able to ascertain that the product he or she is purchasing was made from timber derived from sustainably managed forests in a particular area in a specified country.
The current wood or timber inspection carried out by the Forestry Industry Revitalization Agency, besides being ineffective and vulnerable to corruption and abuse, inspects only legal documents from forestry offices which can easily be forged or falsified.
No wonder Indonesia is on the losing side in a battle against illegal logging, despite an intense crackdown by authorities.
The government has enacted laws on environmental protection and has issued myriads of regulations and rulings to protect forests and erected non-tariff barriers to prevent the trading of illegally-cut wood.
However, illegal logging continues on a massive scale.
But the new wood audit scheme, called Wood Legality Verification System, will involve independent certifiers such as environmental NGOs which have been accredited to conduct such certification, according to Pasaribu.
Since forest certification involves the employment of multidisciplinary teams consisting of various specialists such as forest engineers, ecologists and sociologists to evaluate the various aspects of forest management, the audit or certification process could be quite costly.
Therefore market incentives are necessary to make wood audit or forest certification attractive to wood-based companies. Certainly, the best incentives are premium prices paid to wood products derived from certified forests.
Even though premium prices gained by certified wood today do not seem to be high enough to spark a rush by wood companies to certify, neither the government nor companies can wait much longer.
Market forces have become much stronger now and can force companies to certify the origin of the wood they use. Five European Union governments, including Britain's, have adopted procurement policies that would oblige state-funded construction projects to use certified wood.
Certainly, countries cannot demand that all wood entering their territories be certified, since that would break the rules of the World Trade Organization. But more consumer organizations, especially in major developed countries, have pressured suppliers of wooden products to certify, otherwise they will face massive boycotts.
The concept of forest certification thus uses market forces to curb illegal logging through demand-side and supply-side approaches, mobilizing consumers and traders to shun forest products that are not certified according to internationally recognized standards of sustainable forest management.
Such threats of boycott from powerful consumer organizations and environmental NGOs could force forest-based companies (producers) to have their operations and products certified by accredited, independent forest certifying bodies.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.