It’s the economy, again. – A response to Siobhán McGee

30/03/2014 at 8:49 am 2 comments

A response to Siobhán McGee, from Tom Roche, Just Forests.



Eighteen years ago Just Forests hosted the first conference in Ireland on forest certification and responsible timber sourcing. This was our attempt to inform business and politicians that illegal logging was a crime against humanity and Ireland was fuelling the destruction and must stop.

Eighty-six people representing the forest and timber industry, politics, academia, governmental and non-governmental organisations and the retail sector attended. Among the twelve speakers on the day were representatives from government, business, the NGO sector and the International Development Sector. The lineup was most impressive and you can access all the speaker’s profiles as well as the key note/opening address by Francis O’Sullivan, then Head of Forest Policy with the World Wide Fund (WWF), in our on-line archive by means of this link. (NB: If you click on this link, use Username justforests and password: archives)

There’s no doubt that after this conference Just Forests were on a roll. We saw that the possibilities were endless. We were no wishy-washy, ‘tree-hugging’ outfit, we meant business and we were going to change the face of forest management in Africa for all time.

Your message in this BLOG is the very same message Just Forests delivered to all the invites participants on the day 18 years ago – “…the choices you make in your business life can positively, or negatively, affect the poorest people on the planet.  While it may appear remote at first – the reality in this increasingly globalised world is that it is possible to make an informed choice and do business sustainably, and doing so can transform the lives of some of the poorest people on the planet. And it’s not merely about ‘doing good’ as an add-on – it’s about doing business sustainably and profitably.”

You ask “So how might that work?” – and answer it by stating that “One of the key decisions is where, and how, to source products and raw materials.”

Great! So far I am fully behind you. You are speaking my language. You are again stating the very same thing we said to the participants at our conference 18 years ago and have been saying ever since. We even helped put the structures in place to facilitate the process. We started the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) process in Ireland. Then we set up the first responsible timber buyer’s group in Ireland (Click using Username justforests and password: archives).  After that we went on to develop a responsible timber policy, complete with chain-of-custody (COC) verification support in association with WWF-UK.

In 2001, Offaly Co Council became the first local authority in Ireland to formally adopt our timber procurement policy. To great fanfare in the local media the then County Manager Mr. Niall Sweeney stated, “Offaly County Council are delighted to be the first local authority in Ireland to have formally adopted a timber purchasing policy…”

Offaly County Counciland Tullamore Town Council members and officials have been exposed to Just Forests’ aims and objectives more so that any other local administrative bodies in Ireland since our foundation in Tullamore in 1989.

The current Offaly County Manager, Dr. Pat Gallagher  (just moved to Westmeath in Feb ‘14), was also one of our main speakers at the first conference on global forest related matters held in Dowdstown House, Navan, on 22nd November 1996, that I mentioned earlier.  Dr. Gallagher, was also the then a Labour Party Deputy and Chairman of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Sub-committee on Overseas Development.

In order to get the highest possible support for our vision of responsible resource extraction in Africa Just Forests also made two presentations to two Dáil Committees, one at the request of the then and Chairman, Foreign Affairs Sub-committee on Overseas Development-Aid Dr. Gallagher and one at the request of Offaly Fianna Fail politician, Deputy Sean Fleming, on the importance of putting policies in place to stop the importation of illegally logged timber into Ireland.

In an effort to remind Offaly Co Council that they are not implementing their adopted timber policy I was arrested and charged with a ‘criminal offence’. So much for Dr.Gallagher’s support while he was Manager of Offaly Co Council.

I can understand that you want to tell the world about ‘good’ stories, the positive things that are happening across Africa – so do I. However PMiA and every other development agency are going to have to frame their work against a backdrop of mega events we ignore at our peril, such as: Climate Change and its affects on food production and includes a number of the products PMiA imports – increasing populations and land-use changes that facilitates the flight from rural areas to over-populated cities – Wildlife trafficking is an evil and soul-destroying activity and is linked to the arms trade, conflict, termination of fauna and flora and a national security issue – and how multi-national oil and logging companies have avoided paying taxes in resource-rich but economically poor regions.

Then there is the matter of ‘land grabbing’ across Africa, which surprisingly, considering it’s enormous impacts on the social fabric of Africans you haven’t mentioned in your BLOG. Land grabs are now one of the biggest issues in Africa: In 2010 up to 123.5 million acres of African land — double the size of Britain — have been snapped up or is being negotiated by governments or wealthy investors.’ –  ‘Ethiopia now supports the export of fruit and vegetables worth $60 million annually, as well as flowers worth $160 million per year. Meanwhile, most of the indigenous population receives foreign food aid.’

You say that “People in the NGO sector ask me how this message is being received in the hard edged world of business schools (bias can be found in many places!).  The answer – it’s being received very well. Leaving aside stereotypes, there are thoughtful people, keen to look at fresh ideas on how the world might be improved.  It’s just the start, but let’s see how the journey unfolds towards building awareness and interest in working with African companies, and their people, and towards building sustainable economies for all.”

While there are merits to the PMiA programme, what you are proposing in your statement above is not “new”.

Eighteen years ago Just Forests set the scene for the FSC process in Ireland – a process that also could deal with imports of timber and wood-based products. Our overarching objective was that forest dependent people and timber producers in Africa would get a fair price for their products. This meant putting policies in place here in Ireland to support that objective. Business, as well government in this country has failed miserably to advance the aim.

On 3rd March 2013, the EU Timber Regulation (EYTR) became law. It puts responsibility on timber importers to put ‘due-diligence’ procedures in place to ensure their timber is both legal and sustainable. It took this law to be enacted to deal with the timber trade because self-regulated business models of CSR in this sector are not trustworthy.

For a number of years I have watched, as one-by-one Irish and International NGO’s have walked from the FSC process because of lack of financial support to enable them to engage and speak on behalf of the indigenous communities most affected by illegal logging.  Then there is also the matter of dominance by the economic interests, to the detriment of social and environmental concerns.

In 2013, Just Forests made a formal complaint to FSC International on the dominance of the economic chamber in the Irish FSC process. We highlighted inadequate procedures and glaring conflicts of interest. In November 2013 FSC International upheld our concerns and suspended the FSC Ireland office.

We need a new economic model of working. Michael E. Porter, Harvard University professor, explains why business leaders must focus on shared value — creating products and services that benefit not only the company but also society.

Until CSR ‘corporate social responsibility’ truly means what it is meant to mean in the corporate, academic and charity sectors and proves it beyond a shadow of doubt – to me, CSR will mean ‘continuously seeking resources’ by big business in order to boost their shareholder’s profits and not the advancement of social and environmental well-being and human rights.

Just Forests wish you and all the players in PMiA the very best in your mission and we would be delighted to share our experiences with you at any time.


Tom Roche has worked as a furniture maker for over 30 years. He founded Irish Woodworkers for Africa (T/A Just Forests) in 1989, and continues to coordinate the activities of Just Forests on a voluntary basis since the organization’s funding was severely cut two years ago.




Entry filed under: Gloabalisation, MDGs, NGOs, Tax. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

“It’s the economy, stupid.” The Vikings are here!

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