From the forest floor to the factory: Sustainable timber trade in action



Posted on 30 October 2013
Vietnam has emerged as a strong force in the global furniture market, in recent years becoming the second largest furniture exporter in Asia and the sixth biggest in the world. But years of deforestation and unsustainable timber harvest has left the country devoid of many key species that it once boasted, and the continuation of such practices threatens the manufacturing sector that depends on wood products for its bread and butter.

The area of forests that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council – a scheme that guarantees that a forest is responsibly harvested – is relatively small, which will make it difficult for many companies to export to international markets that are increasingly implementing laws requiring legal verification. This could result in the loss of business opportunities that could help Vietnam grow its economy.

To meet the growing need for sustainable furniture in consumer countries, as well as new regulations from the Vietnamese government on wood harvesting and trade, companies across the supply chain will need to make a concerted effort to tackle illegal logging and the illegal trade of wood products, and ensure that the timber they are manufacturing is legal.

WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) and Responsible Asia Forestry & Trade (RAFT) are working together with companies and smallholders to raise awareness of the shifting global dynamics and legal requirements, help them to attain credible certification, explore new markets for furniture products and be part of a “green economy”.

Vietnam’s efforts to curb illegal logging will be crucial in ensuring that it remains competitive in the international marketplace. GFTN participants are on the forefront in ensuring that timber is legally harvested, at a minimum, with commitments to ensure that they advance towards responsible forestry. GFTN is also assisting in the development of the Voluntary Partnership Agreements, bilateral agreements between the European Union and timber exporting countries, which aim to guarantee that the wood exported to the EU is from legal sources.

Five journalists recently had the opportunity to visit Nghia Tin/Nghia Phat company, a furniture manufacturer that uses FSC certified timber in Binh Dinh and Quang Nam, as well as an FSD-certified plantation operated by Forexco. Through meetings with WWF representatives of the GFTN as well as representatives from the above listed companies, local villages working with these companies, and Carrefour, a French multinational company that sources wood from these suppliers, the reporters were able to understand the on-the-ground realities facing GFTN members. Specifically, the reporters came away with a better understanding of why the legal timber requirements are necessary and what challenges the GFTN members are facing in complying with these standards.

In addition, the reporters became aware of how the companies are engaging local communities and about the benefits that the communities receive from the collaboration. For example, Forexco signs contracts with individuals or groups of farmers to provide them with work in planting, tending, protecting and harvesting legally-certified timber, thereby creating jobs and enhancing livelihoods. Forexco also provides free seedlings and other such supportive services to the farmers, including trainings on silviculture and building infrastructure.

GFTN is helping companies like Nghia Tin/Nghia Phat make the move towards more responsible forestry practices by identifying the gaps and challenges they are facing through conducting a baseline assessment and then helping them take the necessary steps to address these issues, including formulating a 5-year action plan to phase out illegally sourced timber in their procurement process. One of the biggest challenges facing such companies trying to make the shift to sourcing legal timber is that there is insufficient supply of FSC certified timber in the market, and so building capacity and increasing knowledge of the demand for such timber and the standards required for certification is a crucial step forward.  
Workers at the Nghia Tin company.
Workers at the Nghia Tin company.
© WWF-Vietnam Enlarge
Journalists interviewing forest owner, a sub-contractor of Forexco.
Journalists interviewing forest owner, a sub-contractor of Forexco.
© WWF-Vietnam Enlarge

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