Greenpeace report torpedoes WWF’s leading African FSC hopeful

Back in December 2006, we reported on the curious announcement by German multinational timber company, Danzer, about its intention to ‘cooperate’ with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in order to get its massive Congolese logging operations FSC certified. Less than two years ago, Per Rosenberg, Director of WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network gushingly proclaimed that “We believe that the cooperation between WWF and Danzer represents an important shift towards responsible forestry for some of the world’s most threatened forests in the Congo Basin. WWF looks forward to working with Danzer to realize their commitment”.

But as with other of WWF’s partnerships with logging companies, the dream has quickly turned sour. According to the new Greenpeace report, Conning the Congo“German owned, Swiss-based logging multinational Danzer Group, one of the largest players in the Congo logging sector, is using an elaborate profit-laundering system designed to move income out of Africa and into offshore bank accounts, thereby appearing to evade tax payments in the countries in which its companies operate.”

According to Greenpeace, it’s investigations have revealed that through various forms of false accounting, price fixing, profit laundering and suspected non-compliance with tax agreements, Danzer has evaded at least €7.8 million of taxes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Congo-Brazzaville – equivalent, says Greenpeace, to the costs of vaccination for 700,000 Congolese children, or 50 times the annual budget of the DRC environment ministry.

Danzer was quick to dismiss Greenpeace’s accusations as “totally without foundation” and a “populist gimmick” and, unsurprisingly emphasised that it was “cooperating closely with the WWF in conjunction with the ongoing FSC certification of the company’s own African forest concessions” – as if this somehow renders it immune to accusations of criminality or dodgy financial activities.

In 2006, Danzer exclaimed that it’s operations in both the Congos had been granted ‘Timber Legality and Traceability Verification’ certificates following audits by SGS – and SGS might have been expected to act as Danzer’s assessor for an FSC certificate, were it not for the fact that the certification body has now also ‘suspended’ itself from issuing any new FSC certificates, after a series of damning reports on its activities from the FSC Secretariat.

But such unfortunate turns of circumstance will be familiar to WWF, whose leading South American logging partner, Barama, was last year first de-certified from the FSC, then indicted by the Guyanese president for various illegalities, including fraud.

Evidently in an effort to revive the rapidly flagging credibility of FSC in the Congo Basin, on July 31st, WWF issued a statement proclaiming that “more than one million hectares of Congo Basin forests have achieved certification” under the FSC. Listing the four companies that have so far achieved FSC certification in the region – though failing to mention that every one of them has been steeped in controversy – WWF’s Laurent Some went on to note, with no hint of irony, that “Illegal forest exploitation and forest crimes are largely due to poor governance and insufficient law enforcement”. Continuing, Some said that “WWF also recognizes that responsible forest management plays an important role in the economic growth of tropical countries and reducing poverty in forest communities” – which will hopefully provide further pause for reflection on the nature of ‘responsible forestry’ by the owners of Danzer.

Perhaps in a reference to the now disgraced Danzer operations, WWF’s statement concluded with the claim that “by 2012, WWF expects that 7 million hectares of forest in the Congo Basin will be under credible certification while another 5 million hectares will be progressing towards credible certification”. This expectation might well be realised, but whether the logging will be legal, beneficial, and actually compliant with the FSC’s Principles and Criteria, is another matter – or perhaps WWF has a different ‘credible’ certification scheme in mind instead of the FSC?

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