Government institutions are strengthening their efforts and tools to increase regulatory clarity. This comes in the form of better procedures, supply chain oversight, information management, transparency, and in some cases, restructuring. Drivers for these changes have been multiple: exposure of the problem, push for more robust systems, and the demand for evidence of compliance. In Liberia, the VPA implementation has singled out the Ministry of Labour as the only administration, which has no means to execute its mandates in rural areas. This finding has allowed a discussion to find practical solutions for the enforcement of labour requirements in forest concessions.
For transparency commitments to translate into genuine accountability, countries need not only to make information public but also develop procedures for gathering, storing and accessing such information. This can often mean re-structuring collection and retrieval systems, outlining what part of the data is to be made public, as well as encouraging an institutional mind set change.
However, institutional changes of the kind we are seeing require countries to build capacities to follow new procedures, establish effective systems, and re-align management in a short period of time. This has been particularly challenging for governments. Markets are creating pressure for results. Some changes may potentially expose these countries more than others, without perceived added benefit in the short term. This in turn leads to stakeholder frustration and creates opportunities for opposing interests to gain support.
Governments are changing their decision-making processes and their exposure to and involvement of the public. Vietnam prepared its VPA implementation framework through a multistakeholder process. It has set up a Multi-Stakeholder Implementation Core Group to foster effective communication, provide feedback on the implementation of the VPA and propose issues for the EU and Vietnam to consider in meetings of their joint bodies. Importantly the Core Group is co-chaired by the forest administration and a revolving stakeholder representative (currently a civil society leader). In Laos, the Lao CSO FLEGT Group provides a basis for the participation of civil society organisations (CSOs) at all levels of the national process and in the bilateral negotiations.
Governments and institutions face multiple challenges in this transformation to be more open. They include: knowing how to organise and establish dialogue when there is often no culture of such dialogue; the capacities of the different parties to engage as professional partners; the ability to find compromise amid opposing agendas; other government departments operate differently – not with such openness to dialogue; and resources (human, financial) to manage this new dialogue.
FLEGT is transforming the capacity of civil society which is helping them become an active contributor to improve forest governance. This can be seen in civil society’s increased capacity to monitor forests. In the Congo basin, independent observation of the forest sector by local civil society groups in the Congo basin was non-existent just over a decade ago. Today, there are well-organised networks doing effective work and being considered as potential information sources to improve enforcement. Many in the region attribute this to targeted FLEGT investment over the past ten years that has built the capacity of civil society groups. At an event in Cameroon in November, Interpol representatives noted the presence and professionalism of civil society independent observers in the Congo Basin, their standardisation of data collection methods and their potential to contribute to efforts to address illegality. Interpol now sees possible opportunities for these networks to contribute to law enforcement efforts. The conference revealed that the current capacity of civil society organisations makes them relevant interlocutors that are organised and recognised by the administrations and international organisations in charge of forestry issues. Capacity, and use of independent observation findings, both remain issues but the upgrade from ten years ago is noteworthy.
In Indonesia, the Government has strengthened recognition of the rights of independent forest monitors from civil society in the latest revision of the SVLK (timber legality assurance system) regulation. The revision includes protections for independent forest monitors, access to information and monitoring sites, and specifies that the Government may facilitate efforts to obtain sustainable funding. Independent forest monitors have now created a trust fund to support their activities.
There is growing private sector engagement with efforts to promote legal timber trade. In Vietnam, four industry associations organised a workshop with Forest Trends called ‘Vietnam timber industry says NO to illegal timber’, and issued a joint statement, to coincide with initialling of the VPA, on the use, production and trade of legal timber and timber products.
The China National Forest Products Industry Association (CNFPIA) released its voluntary timber legality verification standard. Compliance by members of CNFPIA and the China Timber and Wood Products Distribution Association, which jointly account for more than 80% of China’s importers and exporters of timber and timber products, could have a significant impact on timber legality worldwide.
In the Republic of the Congo, the private sector reviewed and commented on the manual developed in 2017 for the management of non-compliances in the context of the VPA timber legality assurance system. This was the most significant private-sector participation in the VPA process for some years. This shows it is easier to engage the private sector on concrete pieces of work that can affect them (even negatively) than on a general dialogue. Companies there also expressed broad support for legality audits and the legality definition in general following a round of mock audits.
There are critical voices however as well. In Indonesia, parts of the furniture sector are questioning the benefits of FLEGT licensing. Both the EU and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF) are directly engaged with them and provided information on EUTR. However, there are many misunderstandings. The private sector is also calling for more EU market-related communication on licences from Indonesia to help promote the benefits.