The city of Groningen, in the north in of The Netherlands, plans to build Europe’s longest (800 m) bike and pedestrian bridge – a bridge meant to promote gentler, more climate-friendly means of transport. However, the timber for this prestigious “Blauwe Loper” project is mooted to be supplied by WIJMA, the Dutch multinational logging company, whose largest concession is in a part of Cameroon currently gripped by violence and conflict.
WIJMA’s Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified logging concession is located in the heart of the Anglophone region, in the Eyumojock subdivision of southwest Cameroon. Conflict began there in late 2016, when the imposition of French language in courts and schools provoked strikes by lawyers and teachers. Fuelled by economic disparity, marginalisation and repression, the conflict seems headed toward a full-blown separatist movement and humanitarian disaster: at least 150 are reported dead, more than 1,000 arrested (including many journalists) and about 40,000 people have been displaced; many people fled to Nigeria.
Logging in a conflict zone raises serious concerns about the sustainability and legality of WIJMA’s logging operations. It also questions the sustainability and social benefits of certified timber (FW 234): recently FSC auditors were unable to visit the WIJMA concession due to the security situation there. (For now, the FSC has accepted a ‘desk-audit’ – reviewing documentary evidence – but will require an on-site audit in 2018 for the certificate to continue.)
The Dutch Blauwe Loper project developers, the authorities of the city of Groningen and the FSC have all been informed about these concerns; as yet, the plans are reportedly unchanged. How the Dutch competent authority will assess WIJMA’s fulfilment of EU Timber Regulation’s due diligence requirements regarding timber from a very high-risk area remains to be seen.