The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is taking action to help members prepare for the European Timber Regulation (EUTR) because official guidance “isn’t being provided early enough”.

The BRC says its new guidance document will save members money by helping them deal more efficiently with the new law, which will criminalise the import of illegal timber products when it is introduced in March 2013.

BRC’s members include the likes of Tesco and John Lewis.

BRC said the rules apply not only to products made of wood but also to some made of paper, with retailers having to meet the same standards for products they use as well as those they sell. That includes knowing the source of wood and paper used in display shelves, it said.

The consortium says the complexity of the supply chain means retailers need to start preparing for the change in law now. The development of a guidance document, with help from key retailers, is intended to assist members in getting their systems in order.

BRC head of sustainability Catherine Pazderka said retailers had an outstanding record on using ethical and sustainable materials but it would take many months to work through all the products they sell and materials they use in-house to establish they have the required documentation.

“Other European countries should be brought into line with the UK on sustainable sourcing but it’s a shame the EU hasn’t paid attention to all the practicalities,” she said.

“The official guidelines are due out so late that retailers would have to rush the process which will cost them more.

“Thanks to work with its members, the BRC’s able to help retailers take steps now to prepare for the law change, so they can do it efficiently and effectively.”

The Timber Trade Federation (TTF) has made a number of moves to keep its members up to speed with the EUTR.

“I’d agree with them [BRC] that the short time span is difficult for industry, and it is frustrating that full guidance hasn’t been issued longer in advance,” said David Hopkins, TTF head of external affairs.

But he said the general outline and scope of the EUTR had been known for some time, so affected industries have known they should start preparing, even if all the fine details weren’t known.

“We have been issuing guidance, running training courses and have of course developed the Responsible Purchasing Policy – an off-the-shelf due diligence tool – which is free to all members to help them through the EUTR. So any move by BRC or others which complements this and helps get the message out to the market is certainly welcome,” said Mr Hopkins.