UCATT and Greenpeace join forces to 'green' timber procurement

11 November, 2003

This Tuesday (11th November) UCATT (Britain's construction workers' union) and Greenpeace will join forces to launch a new initiative to ensure that UK construction companies stop fuelling illegal logging and the destruction of the world's last remaining ancient forests.

Michael Meacher MP, George Brumwell UCATT General Secretary, John Sauven Greenpeace Campaign Director and Joan Walley MP will speak at the launch, which will see the release of a new UCATT report 'The case for specifying timber from sustainable and legal sources'. The report makes clear that only by purchasing timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) can companies guarantee that timber used in their projects is from well managed forests (1). The report will be distributed to UCATT members, contractors, local authorities, housing associations and property developers.

The UK is currently the largest importer of illegal tropical timber in Europe, with approximately 60 per cent of all UK tropical timber imports coming from illegal logging operations in some of the world's most important rainforests, including the Amazon, Indonesia and central Africa.

The construction industry uses approximately 70 per cent of all the timber sold by the UK timber industry. Central Government contracts account for 15 per cent of UK timber use, and the public sector as a whole accounts for 40 per cent. The adoption of sustainable procurement policies by the public sector would have a major impact on levels of illegal and uncertified timber coming into the UK.

At the launch Greenpeace Campaign Director John Sauven will call for local government and government-funded bodies and projects to adopt green procurement policies. This means that they must specify that all timber used on their projects should come from legal and sustainable sources. Currently public sector projects regularly use illegal and destructively logged timber from the world's remaining ancient forests.

He will also call on Environment Minister Eliot Morley to ensure that the government's 'Central Point of Expertise' on timber procurement is fully funded and autonomous from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and that it will help ensure local government and central government funded projects implement green procurement policies.

George Brumwell UCATT General Secretary said, "The construction industry is often criticised for its approach to the use of natural resources. This initiative is an opportunity to silence those critics and prove that everyone within the industry can contribute to sustainable development." He continued, "What is certain is that we cannot continue to use up the world's resources at the current rate without the risk of permanently damaging the delicate ecological balance. We must take responsibility for our actions and help protect endangered species and cultures."

The government's failure to implement their own policies on timber procurement was highlighted earlier this year when Greenpeace shut down the construction site of the new Home Office HQ after discovering that the project was using timber from Indonesia's last remaining ancient forests (2).

Following the action the government was once again forced to apologise for failing to implement their policy of only buying legal and sustainable timber (3).

Greenpeace will continue to focus on timber being used by the public sector as a way of helping to transform the market for timber in the UK. Past investigations have already discovered the following:

  • The 1.8 million refurbishment of the HMS Warrior, which was partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Portsmouth City Council used 22,000 sq. feet of uncertified teak from Burma's rainforests to replace its upper deck. The US Government have banned the import of all sawn timber from Burma, as funding from the industry supports the Burmese regime which is responsible for a whole catalogue of human rights abuses.

  • A £29 million restoration of the Kennet and Avon Canal, which received a £25 million grant from the Heritage lottery fund, used Liberian timber to build 29 timber lock gates. The timber was traced back to a Liberian company called Oriental Timber Company (OTC). OTC have been accused by the UN Security Council of corruption, illegal activity and using money raised by its logging activities to help fund the bloody civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone that has killed thousands of civilians and left countless more maimed. The UN Security Council last year imposed a temporary ban on imports of Liberian timber because of concerns they were fuelling conflict.

  • A staggering 80 per cent of the world's original ancient forests have already been destroyed or degraded. Much of what remains is under threat from illegal and destructive logging.

 

EDITOR'S NOTES:

For more information contact Greenpeace Press Office on 0207 865 8255 or Keith Bill for UCATT on 020 7924 7555.

UCATT are Britain's only specialist construction workers union with over 110,000 members employed in all the building occupations, both in the private and public sectors.

1) Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation ensures that timber comes from forests that are well managed to strong ecological and social criteria. For more information visit http://www.fsc-uk.info/

2) For more information visit www.greenpeace.org.uk

3) In 2002 the government was found to be using wood from Africa's ancient forests in the refurbishment of the Cabinet Office.

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