- In a briefing paper released March 14, Global Witness accused ten companies from the EU of importing timber harvested illegally from the DRC.
- Industrie Forestiere du Congo (IFCO) logged outside of its approved operational area in a remote DRC forest, the watchdog group said.
- According to Global Witness, the IFCO acquired the concession from company owners or shareholders whose identities have not yet been confirmed.
Ten European companies have been accused of importing illegally-harvested timber from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by Global Witness. The watchdog group said earlier this month that the timber was brought to market by a company called Industrie Forestiere du Congo (IFCO), which operates in a densely-forested, remote area of the central African country.
“[The report] shows that certain companies based in the EU are probably not doing adequate due diligence to screen out any potentially illegal timber from their supply chains,” said Colin Robertson, a campaigner with Global Witness. “Secondly it points to a weak enforcement in some EU member states of the [European Union Timber Regulation].”
The report provides satellite and other evidence that suggests IFCO harvested timber outside the boundaries of the area it was approved to operate in, which “directly contravenes DRC forest law and the company’s own management plan.”
In addition, the report cites a letter written by Congolese authorities in Tshuapa province, where IFCO’s concession lies, ordering the company to suspend its operations for more than six months in 2018. According to evidence presented by Global Witness, IFCO did not comply with the order, and logs harvested during that period may have wound up in EU markets.
IFCO is a major player in the DRC’s timber industry, with clients in countries across the EU, including France, Spain, and Italy. Between June and October 2018, the company brought logs into the EU that had a market value of around 2 million euros. According to Robertson, that timber was an expensive good that may have been used to make high-end furniture or flooring.
“It’s very much a luxury product, and it retails for very high prices,” he said.
IFCO controls two concessions in the DRC, including one that the report lists as an area the size of Luxembourg. The company has only owned the concession since early 2018, when it was acquired from another logging company called Cotrefor, which was previously called Trans-M. According to the report, the largest shareholder in Trans-M was a Lebanese businessman named Ahmed Tajideen. Three members of Tajideen’s family have previously been placed on a terrorism sanctions list by the U.S. Treasury, due to alleged links to the Hezbollah militia group.
The report describes how after Trans-M changed its name to Cotrefor, a representative of the company denied ongoing links to Tajideen. However, most of the Trans-M staff remained, and many are now employed by IFCO.
“We don’t know who the owners or shareholders of IFCO are,” Robertson said, adding that EU buyers of the company’s timber should ask it to disclose that information.
The report also alleges that IFCO has not been following sustainability principles that should mark areas that were logged within the past 25 years as off-limits, which would give them a chance to regenerate. While not technically a violation of DRC laws, the failure to adhere to the company’s management plan is an indication that its operations are potentially more environmentally harmful than it has led buyers to believe.
“The Congo Basin is one of the most climate critical forest on earth,” Robertson said. “It’s the second-largest rainforest, it’s home to incredible biodiversity, and it supports the livelihoods of millions of people. It’s also one of the most remote places on earth where sometimes governance or oversight of the behavior of companies is weak.”
The report calls on companies in the EU to cease purchasing timber from IFCO until they can verify that its operations are in compliance with the EU Timber Regulation. In addition, it urges the government of the DRC to investigate any illegal harvesting of logs by IFCO outside of its agreed-upon boundaries, and to sanction the company if it is found to have violated its management plan.
While IFCO itself hasn’t responded publicly to the report, on March 21 the company published a statement in French from the Congo-based Federation of Wood Manufacturers on its website. It called the allegations “defamatory.” The statement denied that logs were harvested from off-limits areas and asserted that IFCO and Cotrefor are “distinct entities.”
Banner image: The landscape of Garamba National Park in DRC. Photo by Thomas Nicolon for Mongabay.
Ashoka Mukpo is a freelance journalist with extensive experience living and reporting in Liberia. You can find him on Twitter at @unkyoka.
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