Double jeopardy of due diligence

28 December 2017

Two cases of breaches of the European Timber Regulation have come to court. Although the story behind each is quite different, David Hopkins, managing director of the TTF, believes they highlight the industry’s moral and legal obligations

The recent legal cases concerning breaches of the European Timber Regulation (EUTR) in the UK and in Holland are a stark reminder of the timber sector’s obligations in moral and legal terms.

The two cases involved companies at different points of the supply chain, with differing cases against them and markedly differing levels of punishment.

The first involved high street furniture chain Lombok. It was charged with not having conducted suffi cient due diligence over the importation of a single item of furniture – a sideboard from India. There was no allegation that the item itself contained illegally harvested material. The charge was simply that insufficient due diligence had been conducted to state confidently it was of “negligible risk” – a clear legal requirement before placing goods on the market.

The second case, in Holland, did involve illegally harvested material. The Dutch authorities have ruled that Boogaerdt Hout placed illegally sourced teak from Myanmar onto the market. The company has been given two months to clear the material out of its supply chain or face fines of €20,000/m3. This follows a similar case in Sweden last year concerning teak from Myanmar.

Both show the importance of conducting strict due diligence throughout timber supply chains. Without this in place how can it safely be said that there is, or is not, “negligible risk” to the materials we place on the market? If we cannot say there is negligible risk, then we cannot say the timber we are selling is safe and the reputation of the entire timber sector is called into question. In the minds of much of the public, all timber is the same. Even Kevin McCloud, the Grand Designs TV presenter, made this mistake with his comments at UK Construction Week, despite the construction sector largely being served by certified European timber.

It is why the TTF places such importance on the Responsible Purchasing Policy (RPP). We give all of our members the tools to conduct strict due diligence and all importers are third-party audited by the Soil Association, an official monitoring body of the EUTR. It gives confidence to the market and enhances the reputation of the whole timber sector.

The real crime here, though, is that as 21st century business regulation goes, compliance with the EUTR is relatively straightforward. It is a fl exible, businessfriendly approach which allows companies to make their own judgements on their own supply chains. It doesn’t prevent trade; it enables it on a level playing field basis. It is why we are lobbying the government to maintain the EUTR post-Brexit and through the Confederation of Timber Industries’ All Party Parliamentary Group on Timber Industries, have got several politicians to ask questions in the House confirming the government’s future commitment.

We want to keep the reputation of the timber sector very high. The way to do that is to engage fully with the process of due diligence, make it simple and effective, and be proud to demonstrate and articulate what we’re doing. The TTF will review its own RPP processes and mechanisms again in 2018 and work with government to ensure that regulation is something that we help design ourselves, rather than something that is imposed. It is all part of our campaign to ensure the UK market is served only with Timber You Can Trust.