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Illegal logging

Illegal logging is directly connected to corruption, weak and unclear laws, compromised officials, feeble government institutions and fragile civil society. It devastates communities, destroys the environment, denies tax revenue to governments and can trap countries in a cycle of poverty.

Laws can also however forbid small scale logging despite it often being both sustainable and an integral part of the local economy, supporting political parties, small companies, and local communities. This is why just clamping down on illegal activities doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem.

It will only be possible to tackle the root causes of illegal logging if:

  • It is possible to see and record what is happening (transparency),
  • People are being held to account for upholding the law (accountability),
  • People have the skills, time and resources to monitor logging activities and point out any problems (capacity), and
  • Relevant laws support, not undermine, local communities’ rights (just laws).

A capable and well-informed local, national and international civil society can help to achieve these changes, by demanding transparency, holding institutions and individuals to account, challenging the excessive influence of the timber industry over forest policies, and campaigning for legal reform.

To ensure that attempts to end illegal logging are successful, ‘just’ laws need to be in place to ensure that the legal system supports communities, instead of penalising them. This means that the people affected by forestry operations must have the power to influence legislation and policies related to forestry, and be able to campaign for effective enforcement.

Promoting legal timber

Legal logging, if based on environmentally sound and socially just principles, can improve forest management practices, whilst providing livelihoods for local communities.

The EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan, and especially the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) negotiated between wood producing countries and the EU create a good basis for the production of truly sustainable timber. FLEGT VPAs aim to ensure that wood being sold in the EU can be shown to be legally sourced, and that a transparent, accountable and sustainable timber trade supports, rather than harms forest communities.

FLEGT VPAs will not solve the problems of illegal logging overnight. But they are currently the most promising international tool for tackling the root causes, and promoting lasting positive change in the forests.


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FERN's monthly newsletter Forest Watch includes up-to-date information on illegal logging and FLEGT VPAs. Sign-up to receive Forest Watch monthly and read past editions here.

Regular updates about illegal logging and FLEGT VPAs from partner organisations in specific countries are published on

To learn more about FERN’S illegal logging campaign, see the Forest Law and Governance (FLEGT) pages.

Most recent publications

International groups demand investigation into Berta Cáceres murder

A group of more than 50 international organisations have written to the Honduran President to demand an independent international investigation into last week’s killing of the environmental and indigenous rights campaigner Berta Cáceres, and called for guaranteed protection for her family and colleagues, including the Mexican activist who witnessed her murder.

PDF iconLetter_Berta_Caceres983.51 KB

Is DRC planning to lift moratorium and open world’s second largest rainforest to industrial logging?

A group of national and international NGOs, including Fern, have issued a statement warning that plans by the Democratic Republic of Congo to lift a moratorium on new logging concessions threatens to cause environmental destruction, social abuses and corruption in the world’s second largest tropical rainforest, and undermine efforts to prevent climate change.

PDF iconDRC_moratorium_statement251.54 KB

BLOG: Despite reservations, we should stick with EUTR to tackle illegal timber trade

By Lindsay Duffield

Last week, UK newspaper the Guardian published a scathing article about a core EU regulation to prevent the trade in illegal timber, citing incomplete implementation and ‘no clear evidence’ that the EUTR is having any real effect on the illegal timber trade.

But the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) is still in its infancy and, according to the latest European Commission report, is ‘highly relevant’ with the ‘potential to achieve its objectives’.

Protecting forests, improving livelihoods - Comparing community forestry in Cameroon and Guatemala

This report conducts a comparison between the experience of community forests in Guatemala and in Cameroon. Community forests in Guatemala have met with some success, in some cases becoming effective enterprises at the same time as achieving some of the best conservation results in the country. By contrast, Cameroon’s community forests have been plagued with elite capture, corruption and mismanagement by private logging contractors. This has caused devastation to forests, with the majority of community members seeing little to none of the revenues.

Forest Watch special - VPA update December 2015

Every six months, Fern produces an update looking at the present situation with regards the EU's Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, with a specific focus on VPAs. This edition is from December 2015.

PDF iconVPA update December 2015722.64 KB

Vietnamese NGOs call for improved forest governance through FLEGT VPA and free trade deal

The EU and Vietnam recently concluded a Free Trade Agreement and reaffirmed their determination to conclude negotiations for a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) promoting sustainable and legal timber trading. In a statement, a group of Vietnamese NGOs, supported by Fern, has reminded both parties that the only way to guarantee a legal and sustainable timber trade is through improved forest governance, and has called for civil society organisations to have a clearly defined role in the VPA process to ensure credibility though independent monitoring from the ground.

PDF iconstatement_Vietnam_VPA112.91 KB