Timberleaks is an organization determined to shine light on illegal logging practices happening around the world. They explain on their website that based on hard evidence, including but not limited to a ‘growing network of industry informants’, they aim to identify the most scandalous practices of the wood industry “to the people who most need to hear it”. Timberleaks is part of Earthsight, a non-profit organization, committed to investigative primary research and bringing attention to pressing issues of human rights and environmental justice.
Timberleaks publishes articles on their website and supposedly sends them to over 100 relevant officials, wood product employers, wood purchasing managers of the largest retail stores in the world, and prominent industry groups and sustainability bodies.
However, up until now, there are not more than three articles on the Timberleaks website, all from October 2017. They display reports on U.S. companies, which continue to import large quantities of teak from Myanmar, and on those collaborating with suppliers known for bulldozing intact Bornean forests as well as on French companies allegedly importing high quality logs from conflict and country ridden countries in Africa.
The articles include important timber trade related background information for the reader, on procedures like the European Timber Regulation or the Lacey Act and provide Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reports for reading up on the last decade of timber smuggling out of Burma. They do not shy away from displaying perpetrators “Two US companies – East Teak Fine Hardwoods and J. Gibson McIlvain – control two-thirds of this trade. Between them, these two firms have imported around $5 million of teak from Burma so far this year”, nor from connecting timber trade to wider political contexts in conflict ridden countries such as the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of Congo “A 2014 study by the respected think-tank Chatham House concluded that it was “unlikely that any of the DRC’s timber production could plausibly meet EU due diligence requirements”. Yet French companies have somehow been able to continue their multi-million-dollar business with the country, with shipments being landed every month.”
Timberleaks keeps their promise to “dish the dirt” on all the scandalous practices of the wood industry”. The organization shares investigations into suppliers, illegally sourcing their wood from irreplaceable forests and into traders turning a blind eye to warnings of suspected wood so that they can build luxurious boats. However, although crucial issues such as French firms continuing to import high risk logs from Africa, and US Luxury Yachts being supplied with suspect Burmese teak are covered, the organization does not specify its modus operandi. “Informants have told Timberleaks that these checkpoints are commonly manned by armed local gangsters. Villagers allege that the same gangsters are used to intimidate local communities and suppress dissent against the company’s operations.” There are so-called industry informants providing the evidence behind the reports, and yet information on tracking methods and experiences is sparse.
As part of Earthsight, Timberleaks is backed by a network of environmental activists and investigators all dedicated to monitor illegal logging and deforestation. After a decade of being the research behind major exposés by human rights and environment organisations, Earthsight has come out of the shadows and started to publish its own stories under the organization’s own name. Timberleaks is one of several monitoring projects, such as the Timber Investigation Center or the Illegal Deforestation Monitor. It has a demanding character, rather normative and idealistic in nature, and the power to inspire and to captivate people interested in taking action against illegal timber trade. Ideally it will also inspire relevant officials and suppliers to take a stand.