Last week at Manchester Magistrates Court a timber company called Hardwood Dimensions (Holdings) Ltd was found to be in breach of regulations prohibiting the import and sale of illegally harvested timber.
This was the first time that the British government’s new Office for Product Safety and Standards has taken action against a company under the EU Timber Regulation.
Hardwood Dimensions had failed to carry out adequate due diligence into whether a batch of timber from Cameroon was legal, before putting it on sale.
Under the EU Timber Regulation,
Operators must not place illegally harvest timber on the EU market and to avoid doing so must apply a due diligence system, under which they:
- gather information on timber, including its species, quantity, supplier, country of harvest and compliance with applicable legislation
- assess the risk of timber being illegal, applying set criteria in the regulations
- mitigate any identified risk, by obtaining additional information or taking further steps to verify legality
In a press release, Mike Kearney, Head of Enforcement at the Office for Product Safety and Standards, said,
“This conviction shows just how serious we are about compliance issues and how we will take rapid action when rules have been broken to protect consumers, businesses and the environment.”
Hardwood Dimensions pleaded guilty and was fined £4,000 plus costs, a total of £7,443.
FSC certified timber is no guarantee of legality
Hardwood Dimensions was fined not for importing illegal timber, but because of deficiencies in its due diligence system. A statement by the Timber Trade Federation explains that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy stated that none of the timber was from an illegal source.
The timber concerned was FSC Certified Ayous, bought by Hardwood Dimensions in January 2017. In addition, Hardwood Dimensions has had an FSC Chain of Custody certificate since 2000:
FSC UK’s website explains that Chain of Custody certification “ensures that FSC materials and products have been checked at every stage of processing so that customers purchasing FSC labelled products can be confident that they are genuinely FSC certified”.
Simon Marsden, a Director of Hardwood Dimensions, told the Timber Trade Federation that he believed that the fact that the timber was FSC certified was sufficient to comply with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR):
“This case shows how easy it is to fall foul of the EUTR. As a company, we felt we had adequate procedures in place, particularly in this case as we were purchasing FSC Certified material. However, this is clearly not the case and we admitted that for this one particular supply line our Due Diligence systems were deficient.”
But FSC certification is not adequate to prove that timber has been legally harvested under the EU Timber Regulation.
David Hopkins, the Timber Trade Federation’s Managing Director, said that,
“This case highlights the need for all importers to conduct thorough Due Diligence assessments on all of their products, even those which carry FSC certification. FSC alone is no guarantee of having complied with legal process.”