Forestry sector 'failing' to combat forced labour

| 13th November 2019
Illegal logging in Russia
Illegal timber is transported in the Tayozhniy Wildlife Refuge, Far East Russia, in 2010. Photo: Michael Stuewe/WWF
Workers in the forestry sector face threats, violence, poor conditions and non-payment of wages.

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Most of the world’s largest forestry companies producing paper or wooden furniture are failing to protect their workers from forced labour, according to new research.

Just three of the 39 largest forestry companies can show how they check for forced labour risks in their supply chains, KnowTheChain revealed today. 

The forestry sector employs thirteen million workers globally with another 41 million employed in informal forestry. They carry out logging, produce pulp or timber or make paper or wooden furniture But exploitation in the forestry sector is endemic, with up to 50 percent of the world’s $30-100 billion illegal logging operations based on forced labour.

Exploitation

Forestry workers in sawmills face threats, violence, poor living and working conditions, non-payment of wages, and excessive or unpaid overtime, and having their freedom of movement restricted, with risks even higher for the sector’s large migrant workforce.

Yet today’s study finds that just 8 percent of the sector’s largest companies ban their suppliers from charging workers recruitment fees, which can lead migrant workers into debt bondage.

None of the 39 companies disclosed engaging with supply chain workers’ groups such as trade unions – a key safeguard against exploitation.

The briefing argues that forestry companies and investors must understand these risks and carry out human rights checks (due diligence) to avoid risk and help prevent the exploitation of workers. 

Systemic problem 

Felicitas Weber, KnowTheChain project lead, said: “The world’s forestry sector has a systemic problem of forced labour, and right now companies show a lack of action to address this appalling abuse.

"Responsible investors have a role to play in ensuring the people carrying out logging or producing pulp, paper or wooden furniture are safe from forced labour and exploitation.”

She added: “This guidance provides forestry investors with the tools they need to drive meaningful change in this sector, avoid risk, and protect workers from forced labour and abuse.”

This Article 

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. 

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