issue 133

Issue 133 of Ethical Consumer was a boycotts special. We ran a number of boycott features in the magazine, including:

Animal Friendly Boycotts

Israel - Boycotting from within

Boycotts under the microscope

The key to success

and this article by the Environmental investigation agency.


A different species of boycott

When a product’s supply chain is so riddled with corruption and illegality that virtually any company selling it is likely to be complicit in crime, what good are individual company boycotts? Jago Wadley from the Environmental Investigation Agency explains more...

This has been a question for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in our campaign to tackle the global illegal timber trade. A decade of EIA’s undercover investigations have exposed various major timber commodity streams overwhelmingly characterised by illegal logging, timber smuggling and crime, and how this feeds ‘legitimate’ timber and wood products markets worldwide.

Instead of calling for boycotts of individual companies, EIA has called for what might be described as boycotts, albeit with caveats, on entire wood species – particularly when those species are key drivers of illegal logging and deforestation in the high-risk areas in which we work.

Here we take a look at some examples of this approach.

Merbau Flooring

Since 2004, EIA’s investigations have repeatedly exposed massive illegal logging of merbau wood (Intsia Spp.) in Indonesia’s Papuan provinces, where a billion-dollar illegal trade is the key driver of deforestation.

Illegal merbau logs were being smuggled to manufacturers of cheap flooring in Indonesia, Malaysia and China, and sold on to Western markets where it became a mainstay for most of the world’s biggest flooring companies. Our work showed how virtually none could demonstrate the legality of this wood.

While publicly exposing many of the biggest companies, EIA felt individual company boycotts would be unproductive. Instead, we sought to leverage the entire market and called for consumers to avoid buying all merbau flooring – from anyone, anywhere – unless suppliers were capable of providing documented evidence proving the legality of the wood used. Our message was “get proof it’s legal, or don’t buy it”.

Keruing & Balau Garden Furniture from Vietnam

Since 2007, EIA has probed the illegal log trade between Laos and Vietnam, publishing two evidence-based reports exposing significant smuggling of keruing (Dipterocarpus spp.) and balau (Shorea spp.) logs to Vietnam’s voracious factories, in contravention of Laos’ clear yet poorly enforced log export ban. Much of this wood was ending up in garden centres and household patios across Europe and America.

Again, rather than targeting one of the hundreds of companies involved, we advised consumers and importers in Western markets to steer clear of all Vietnamese outdoor furniture made with balau or keruing logs from Laos – again, until evidence was available demonstrating legal compliance with the laws of both Laos and Vietnam. As large sections of the industry are not able or willing to demonstrate where their balau or keruing originates, consumers and importers have been steering clear, and the message to the trade is clear.

Boycotting Limits to Reforms

By seeking market-wide reforms rather than targeting this or that individual company, EIA has sought to leverage market forces to incentivise broader reforms upstream, where poor governance and law enforcement are often the biggest threats to forests. Seeking to maintain profitable markets, companies were forced to introduce legality traceability measures- dramatically increasing transparency in the sector and spawning an entire industry of legality certifiers to provide these services.

More fundamentally, however, EIA has been able to use this approach to generate political support for principled and practical legislation that prohibits trade in illegal wood in high-value markets.

Successes include the 2008 amendment of the US Lacey Act to include wood products, and last year’s passage of the EU Timber Regulation, which comes into force in March 2013. Both of these laws explicitly prohibit trade in illegal timber across entire markets, sending a clear message to all operators across the board – get legal, or get prosecuted.


Read more from our Boycotts special issue:

Animal Friendly Boycotts

Israel - Boycotting from within

See our furniture buyers' guide for an in depth look at how to buy sustainably produced wood furniture.