A Dutch court has ruled that importers of teak from Myanmar must be able to trace the legality of the luxury timber all the way back to felling.
The judgement confirms that the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) imposes stringent standards on timber traders to ensure their imports are legally harvested at all stages of production, beginning with cutting the tree down.
Our Forests campaigners have submitted a series of complaints against various companies over their imports of Myanmar teak and this latest case arose as a result of three such complaints.
EIA Forests Campaigns Leader Faith Doherty said: “We have been at the forefront of efforts to ensure illegally felled teak from Myanmar is kept out of European markets and are delighted that this ruling underlines the responsibilities of traders to ensure they are not dealing in stolen wood.
“In addition we support any real reforms in Myanmar, reforms the sector desperately needs in order to sustain Myanmar’s forests and the people who rely upon them.”
The ruling by the Dutch Administrative Court in the Hague upheld a finding by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (the Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit , or NVWA) that Myanmar teak traded for yacht construction was not compliant with the law.
The court case follows coordinated action in 2019 by Dutch and Czech authorities to seize large quantities of teak being routed through the Czech Republic in an attempt to get around EUTR enforcement.
The NVWA initially pursued enforcement action against teak traders in the Netherlands after EIA submitted complaints against three Dutch companies in 2016 and issued an order against one trader – Royal Boogaerdt Timber – to prevent it from directly trading teak into the country.
The company challenged the order, insisting it was not responsible for ensure legality throughout the whole timber supply chain for the timber.
However, the EUTR imposes ‘due diligence’ requirements, which means that companies have to take steps to ensure their timber does not come from an illegal source.
Doherty added: “If the company’s case was accepted in court, it would have significantly weakened the EUTR as operators could have gotten away with not fully verifying the legality of the timber – effectively opening the gates for illegal timber from Myanmar and elsewhere to enter Europe.
“This welcome decision provides further support for the strong stance taken on Myanmar teak and confirms the robust standards imposed by the EUTR as well as the considerable difficulties presently meeting them for Myanmar teak.
Since 2015, EIA has released a series of reports laying bare the high risks of importing timber from Myanmar; most recently, State of Corruption exposed high-level corruption in the Myanmar teak trade.
During the past decade, Myanmar had one of the highest levels of deforestation in the world and illegal logging was a major cause of that destruction.
In rejecting Royal Boogaerdt Timber’s claims, the court firmly stated that timber operators have a duty to completely verify the legality of the timber, ruling (translated from original Dutch):
- … the information gathered must adequately cover all steps of the production chain, namely from the felling to the import of the timber into the internal market. Contrary to the claimants’ opinion, this also includes, in particular, information about the location in which logging has taken place, for example in the form of a scheme that grants the right to harvest wood there;
- … the collected documentation must be assessed as a whole, with traceability throughout the entire supply chain , where all information must be verifiable. It was therefore up to claimants to familiarise themselves with the applicable laws and regulations prior to placing the timber on the internal market and to obtain the necessary documents and information.
The court further found Royal Boogaerdt Timber had not conducted adequate due diligence for the teak it had imported because it was missing key steps in the supply chain. It also found that the penalty imposed by NVWA, which included an order to stop importing Myanmar teak for a year, was procedurally sound.