Dalhoff Larsen and Homeman (DLH), a Danish timber giant once accused of buying conflict timber during Liberia’s civil war has been barred by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for purchasing illegal Liberian Private Use Permit (PUP) logs.
The FSC is the world’s largest timber certifier. In response to complaints submitted by Global Witness, FSC said that DLH can no longer use the FSC brand to claim that its timber is legal and sustainable.
FSC further ruled in the case that if DLH wants to regain its certification, it must compensate Liberian communities for damage to their forests.
According to the forest certifier’s record, DLH in 2012 purchased timber worth US$30,870 from Global Logging and Liberia Hardwood, companies that reportedly held three PUPs in Grand Bassa and Gbarpolu counties.
In December 2012 government investigation reported that PUP logging licenses were illegal, having been obtained through fraud, corruption and without the consent of local communities.
The Government of Liberia after observing the fraudulent and corrupt activities surrounding the obtaining of PUPs halted all PUP operations and cancelled 29 contracts.
“PUPs were the largest land grab in Liberian history, covering 23 percent of the country,” said Global Witness co-Director Patrick Alley. “We call upon the company to immediately fix the problem they helped create and compensate affected communities in Grand Bassa and Gbarpolu.”
DLH, however, claimed in a release that all the timber it purchased was “legally exported and audited by the verification company, SGS” and that the company immediately stopped purchasing timber from Liberia when a government report concluded that the felling licences were not issued on a legal basis.
DLH also said it anticipates “retaining” its FSC certification by meeting the conditions outlined by FSC in the next three months.
The conclusion in these conditions is the requirement that DLH “compensate the communities in Liberia affected by the Private Use Permits it (DLH) was sourcing from, for the losses and lost income they incurred.”
Accordingly, DLH has a notorious track record in Liberia. During the civil war DLH purchased timber from loggers including Gus Kouwenhoven’s Oriental Timber Company (OTC), which had close links to former Liberian warlord turned President, Charles Taylor, maintained private militias and allegedly committed human rights abuses and traded arms during the war.
SFC maintains that much of these activities were known to DLH at the time, as it was reported by the UN Security Council Panel of Experts, numerous NGOs (including Global Witness), and was the subject of widespread press coverage.
DLH and other timber companies, SFC said, have so far not been held accountable for their role in fuelling Liberia’s civil war. However, Kouwenhoven is the subject of a criminal trial in the Netherlands, and in France Global Witness, Green Advocates, Greenpeace, and Sherpa have filed a criminal complaint against DLH.
“DLH has a horrific record of financing conflict through the trade in timber during Liberia’s civil war,” said Alley. “While we welcome the FSC’s decision to penalize the company for its role in the PUP scandal, DLH still has not been brought to justice and has not compensated Liberia for the damage it helped cause during the war,” Alley maintained.
The FSC decision will, however, bolster efforts by the Liberian government to hold accountable logging companies currently operating in the country.
To date the government has cancelled PUP contracts and indicted eight government officials, but so far no PUP companies have been prosecuted. Indeed, companies that profited from PUPs, including Liberia Hardwood and Atlantic Resources (the largest PUP holder), continue to log their other concessions.
In its September 2014 US$150 million agreement with the government of Norway, Liberia pledged to investigate current logging companies and cancel any contracts found to be illegal. This investigation can now draw on this FSC ruling that companies profiting from illegal logging in Liberia should be penalized.
“The Liberian government has made a strong commitment to reinstate the rule of law in the forest sector. The FSC decision against DLH demonstrates that it is not alone in its efforts to hold accountable timber companies that abuse Liberia’s forests and communities,” said Alley.