June 30, 2015


Illegal Logging Issues - Significance and Challenges: Pertinence of Forest Management Governance in Japan & Other Countries

Keywords: Ecosystems / Biodiversity Newsletter Policy / Systems 

JFS Newsletter No.154 (June 2015)

Photo: Illegal rosewood stockpiles
Image by Maky Some Rights Reserved.

Ever since the global decrease in tropical forests became a matter of concern in the 1980s, timber-importing countries have been making efforts to draw up a framework for timber import and procurement designed to prevent illegal logging and to promote appropriate forest management. This issue of the JFS newsletter will introduce Japan's responses to illegal logging issues, courtesy of Dr. Takashi Fujiwara, President of the Woodmiles Forum, a general incorporated association that investigates environmental impacts during the timber transportation process. We present one of his articles that appeared in the journal "Shinrin Gijutsu (Forest Technology)" (No. 876, March 2015, published by Japan Forest Technology Association) titled "Illegal Logging Issues - Significance and Challenges: Pertinence of Forest Management Governance in Japan & Other Countries."



To address global illegal logging issues, the Japanese government decided in 2006 that timber products and building materials whose legality has been verified should be preferentially procured, and as a guideline for suppliers of wood and wood products, the Forestry Agency published the "Guideline for Verification on Legality and Sustainability of Wood and Wood Products" (hereinafter the "Guideline"): ten years will have passed in February 2016 since this Guideline was published.

The system to verify legality based on this Guideline, which more than 11,000 business operators participate in and implement, is internationally well known as "Gohowood." This system has been compared frequently with measures against illegal logging being taken in the U.S. and EU countries. As a leading member who has been involved in implementation of this system from the very beginning, in this article I discuss its significance and present challenges to the system in Japan from a global point of view. I hope that new horizons will be opened up in this important system as it marks its 10th anniversary.

Backdrop to the Response to Illegal Logging Issues

In the 1980s, a decrease in tropical forests on the global scale became apparent, and forest management became a matter of concern as a global environmental issue. Against this backdrop, agreement on a global forest convention was sought at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992; however, no convention was adopted due to objections from developing nations4). To solve this problem, a global environmental framework involving developing nations had to be created, a very challenging task. After the Earth Summit, various efforts have been made by both the public and private sectors, including intergovernmental talks and market approaches.

When agreement on a global forest convention that would have directly aimed for international consensus on forest management obligations and support broke down, market approaches offered an alternative direction.

Mostly through the efforts of an environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO) that was leading the initiative to boycott tropical wood, etc. and of the industry itself, a movement to secure appropriate forest management through supply chain management based on certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) began expanding. However, government-based efforts in consumer countries involving the market can be considered more pertinent to controlling illegal logging than this kind of privately based consumer country effort.

Measures against Illegal Logging by Governments

The Group of Seven, initially a forum for economic policy coordination among advanced nations, raised the priority of environmental policies in the latter half of the 1980s and, as previously mentioned, it proposed the global forest convention that was rejected by the Earth Summit in 1992. The 31st G8 summit, held in 2005 in Gleneagles, was notable in that an environment-related action plan was agreed to, which states "We agree that working to tackle illegal logging is an important step towards the sustainable management of forests. To tackle this issue effectively requires action from both timber producing and timber consuming countries."

(1) Japanese Government's Initiatives
In line with this action plan, since 2006 measures have been taken by the Japanese government to promote preferential purchase of timber proven to be legitimate in accordance with the Green Purchasing Law and its associated Guideline for determining legitimacy.

The Guideline lays out three methods to determine legitimacy: (1) through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Forest Management Certification and Chain of Custody Certification; (2) through companies under the authorization of an industry association; and (3) through original measures taken by each company. Among these, the second method was the original and played a significant role. More than 150 industry associations have granted powers of authorization for guaranteeing legitimacy to over 11,000 companies throughout Japan in order to establish a system to provide legitimately harvested wood.

Regarding the three methods, see also: (page 6 to 8)

(2) The United States Government's Initiatives
To deal with illegal logging, the United States amended the Lacey Act in 2008 as follows:

1. It is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any foreign law (Section 3372 - Prohibited acts (a)(2)); 2. Any person who intentionally or knowingly engages in conduct prohibited by 1 and in the exercise of due care should know that the plants were taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any underlying law shall be fined (Section 3373 - Penalties and sanctions (d) Criminal penalties), or civil forfeitures shall be governed (Section 3374 - Forfeiture (d)); and 3. Declarations for the botanical name of any plant imported, the amount and the price of imported plants, and the name of the country where plants were taken must be made.

(3) EU's Initiatives
Since 2003 the European Union (EU) has been seeking bilateral agreements with developing countries regarding the intensification of the enforcement of its Forest Law. To strengthen the measures, EU enforced EU Timber Regulations in 2013.

These regulations specify: (1) Operators are prohibited to place illegally harvested timber and products derived from illegal timber on the EU market (Subsection 1 in Section 4); (2) Traders operating within the EU who are placing timber on the EU market for the first time are required to exercise "due diligence" (Subsection 2 in Section 4); and (3) Traders operating within the EU have to keep records of whom they bought timber from and to whom they sold the timber (Section 5).

Green Supply Chain Management

Environmental supply chain management has been proposed as an advanced version of supply chain management, which regards every operation of the entire process -- starting with raw material procurement all the way to supplying end users -- as a single business process and is used as a fundamental of strategic management tool. Environmental supply chain management provides users and consumers with environmental information throughout the supply chain, starting with raw material procurement sites.

Any approach that aims to secure forest management governance throughout the wood supply chain is regarded as a form of environmental supply chain management. Initiatives to solve social problems occurring at natural resource procurement sites, such as problems related to conflict diamonds, conflict minerals and certified marine products, have been widely implemented using supply chain management. In many cases, however, the efficiency of supply chain management depends on the quality of social responsibility exercised by the major companies that serve as the core of the supply chain. At the same time, the supply chain of "forests to wood products" often depends on a network of many small- and medium-sized companies without global core companies. That is why it is necessary to devise ways to manage this supply chain.

In this connection, the reliability of a forest certification program is rooted in its dependence on relatively large-scale companies, as they expand their control over the supply chains extending to and from such companies. Unlike regions where global corporations cover the market, such as in Northern Europe and North America, applying this kind of scheme in markets which are mainly dominated by small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) gives rise to cost barriers. The Lacey Act, EU Timber Regulations and other recent schemes impose duty of care on stakeholders at the point when timber crosses national borders in the course of their supply chains, and punish them if they fail to comply.

Controlling cross-border trading makes economic sense because: 1) the main players in cross-border trading are relatively large-scale corporations; 2) existing customs procedures can be used for public control of the networks. The ability to control the importation process is a necessary condition for incorporating a penalty system as grounds for a scheme's reliability. This method, however, does not function to control the many tons of timber products that do not cross borders, such as timber products traded within the EU zone.

The intent of Japan's Guideline is to establish the reliability of a network that mainly consists of SMEs by making a commitment to fulfill the social responsibility of an industry association. As such, it will be necessary to address global illegal logging issuesby taking into account and incorporating into the Japanese system the different characteristics of these other mechanisms.

Forest Management in Japan and the Forestry Agency's Guideline

Comparing the content dealing with illegal logging in the Forest and Forestry Basic Plans of 2001, 2006 and 2011, we find that in the first two plans, illegal logging was mentioned solely as one of the international issues to be considered in the context of international cooperation and contributions and measures to deal with importing forest products. In addition to the understanding as the international issue the current plan adopted in 2011 is marked by a description of the issue presented in a context of ensuring proper forest management in relation to domestic forest governance, stipulating that the national government shall make efforts to promote mechanisms to certify wood products harvested using a proper logging procedures and thus facilitate the promotion of proper forest management.

Strengthening the governance of all forests, in both developing and developed countries, is a challenge for any country. The Guideline clearly defines its own role as an important tool to improve the governance of forest management in a unified manner by involving the government, relevant industries and citizens (consumers). It can be said that the system's universality and significance, which were not recognized while the Guideline was being drawn up, came to be recognized in the process of its execution.


In order for the Guideline to fulfill its role as mentioned above, it will be necessary to upgrade the voluntary monitoring system in its implementation phase and develop a "control tower" type oversight function that can fulfill the accountability needs of the system. To that end, it is essential to establish a market-supported system by coordinating, for example, with housing policy. The present tenth anniversary of its publication offers a perfect opportunity to work out these issues. This valuable tool, which was born in Japan, is expected to reach a higher level and further spread out through the global society.

Written by Dr. Takashi Fujiwara, President of the Woodmiles Forum