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Monday, December 11, 2023

Group exposes how Cameroon’s stolen wood reaches international markets

A Greenpeace Africa investigation into illegal logging operations in Cameroon has uncovered a trail of stolen timber leading to Cameroon’s main log exporter Compagnie de Commerce et de Transport (CCT), and has reportedly prompted a government audit into the activities of CCT and its suppliers. That audit should include the supplier La Socamba, subject of a Greenpeace briefing released on Thursday.

Observers insist that Cameroon's pledge to combat illegal logging needs more action and more transparency
Observers insist that Cameroon’s pledge to combat illegal logging needs more action and more transparency

The evidence presented in the briefing, “La Socamba: How Cameroon’s Stolen Wood Reaches International Markets”, demonstrates how CCT, which supplies timber companies worldwide, including in China and Europe, sources timber from La Socamba, a company engaged in seemingly questionable practices, including logging several kilometres outside their legal logging title. This new case complements evidence already presented by Greenpeace in its reports on CCT suppliers.

On 25 May, in response to Greenpeace offer of a right to response, CCT admitted that Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) had ordered an audit of the activities of CCT and its suppliers to determine which were involved in illegal activities and to trace the resulting timber.

“Greenpeace Africa takes note of the audit of CCT’s practices – but stresses that this process should be independent and transparent, and that CCT suppliers are properly sanctioned when illegal activities are confirmed,” said Eric Ini, Greenpeace Africa forest campaigner.

In September 2015, Greenpeace published three cases of illegal logging in permits supplying CCT: logging permits exploited by South Forestry Company (SFC), FEEMAM and SOFOCAM. The Minister of Forestry, Ngole Philip Ngwese, has proclaimed the innocence of companies exposed by Greenpeace for their involvement in illegal logging.

Yet, one of the companies investigated by Greenpeace, SFC, has been fined by the authorities twice for exactly the kind of practices Greenpeace exposed, and CCT and its suppliers are now apparently subject to an investigation by MINFOF. In addition, the Dutch authorities sanctioned the Dutch importer of CCT timber based on the Greenpeace evidence.

“If Cameroon is serious about ending the illegal timber trade, it must work closely with the EU towards credible implementation of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement and, as a first priority, to re-establish a system of credible Independent Monitoring of Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade in Cameroon,” concluded Ini.

Next to Belgium and the Netherlands, the UK government also regards timber from Cameroon as “high risk” and has recently investigated UK operators trading in Cameroon timber. These actions from the UK government and the sanction from the Dutch Authorities are positive first steps, points out Greenpeace, adding however that all EU countries must treat timber from Cameroon as high risk, and require stringent due diligence standards from importing companies until the government of Cameroon can prove beyond reasonable doubts that it is properly enforcing the country’s forestry laws and regulations.

While carrying out research for the La Socamba briefing, Greenpeace undertook field investigations in October 2014 and January 2016 to document areas where permits for destructive “cut-and-run” logging, known as “sales of standing volume” (or VCs, from the French ventes de coupe), have been issued to CCT suppliers and recorded testimonies from local residents and authorities, as well as ex-employees. Greenpeace also discovered timber carrying the permit number VC 09 01 203 – issued to La Socamba – discarded up to 8km outside the logging title.

Cameroon’s forests support the livelihoods of thousands of people and are amongst the region’s most biologically diverse forests, providing valuable habitat for endangered Western Lowland Gorillas, chimpanzees and forest elephants, amongst other species. Unsustainable and illegal logging in these forests is leading to deforestation, destruction of the ecosystem and diminished resilience to climate change.

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