22 January 2004 | David Arminas
Purchasers buying Indonesian timber under a new initiative to put barcodes on trees to certify them as legally harvested should be aware that the wood may still not be ethically produced.
Dr Paul Toyne, a director of ethical consultancy Article 13 and the former head of the conservation group WWF's forestry programme in the UK, welcomed the move by two Indonesian logging companies to attach labels to timber and products made from it.
But he said the real question purchasers should ask themselves was whether the wood had come from sustainable forests.
"Legality should be a given when buying timber, but it is not the be all and end all," he said.
He agreed that it overcame fears about whether the wood was free from corrupt logging practices, such as trees from land where ownership was disputed.
But he added: "Purchasers should ask themselves whether, by buying the timber, they are encouraging the creation of viable sustainable forests in Indonesia."
The two logging firms - PT Gunung Gajah and PT Sumalindo Lestari Jayato - in the three-month trial, which starts this month, will assign unique codes to the trees that will carry over to the products made from them.
More than £215,000 for the project will come from the Nature Conservancy, a US-based environmental group, US government sources and Home Depot, one of the world's largest manufacturers of DIY products.
Toyne said Indonesian timber suppliers were particularly prone to corruption because many of them sold most of their products to China, where unethical practices are not questioned.
A spokeswoman for the Green Building Store, a supplier of domestic and business windows, doors and conservatories, said it did not source from Indonesia because of ethical concerns, but welcomed the scheme.
"However, the results would have to be very good for us to consider Indonesian wood," she said.
The government launched an inquiry into its timber sourcing after a protest by pressure group Greenpeace over the use of wood from unsustainable forests stopped work on new Home Office buildings last summer (see News
, 19 June 2003).
Greenpeace claims that half of all tropical wood imported into the UK comes from Indonesia.