Academic journal article Social Justice

Logging and Legality: Environmental Crime, Civil Society, and the State

Academic journal article Social Justice

Logging and Legality: Environmental Crime, Civil Society, and the State

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE CONSIDERS HOW CRIMINOLOGISTS CAN BEST ANALYZE THE CRIME AND harm involved in the destruction of forests around the world. Although "illegal logging" as conventionally defined is undoubtedly a major form of transnational organized crime, the boundary between "legal" and "illegal" logging is ambiguous and conceptually unsatisfactory. We illustrate this point with a number of examples, focusing in particular on the highly destructive but generally lawful practices of the timber industry in Tasmania. Drawing on recent work on state crime, we argue for a definition of crime as behavior that is both deviant, in the sense that it is subject to, and significantly affected by, social processes of censure and sanction, and "criminal" in the sense that it violates normative standards that we as criminologists endorse. We argue that in some situations (such as the Tasmanian case) the role of civil society in defining, censuring, and sanctioning deviant behavior is more significant than that of the state; however, the role of civil society in defining and censuring "illegal logging" must itself be subject to critical scrutiny.

Illegal Logging as a Major Transnational Crime

   A significant part of the timber trade involves a world market in
   what are effectively illegal and stolen goods, worth up to $15
   billion a year, for which the E.U. (including the U.K.), the U.S.
   and Japan are the main markets (House of Commons Environmental
   Audit Committee, 2006: 10).

The evasion of laws and regulations designed to protect the natural environment--"environmental crime"--is nothing new. Illegal trade in endangered species, illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing and whaling, illegal dumping of hazardous waste, much of the aquaculture industry in Latin America, and the smuggling of ozone-depleting substances flourish around the globe. Illegal logging and the illegal trade in timber and timber products are almost certainly the most economically significant international environmental crime. As an illegal trade, precise quantification remains illusive, but a U.N. report (UNECE and FAO, 2005: 13-15), citing a study commissioned by the U.S. paper industry, estimates that eight to 10% of global production and a similar proportion of trade is illegal, with the total value of "suspicious" timber products at up to $23 billion per annum. (2) The World Bank has estimated that in the tropical forests alone, 5,000 square kilometers of forests--an area the size of the island of Bali--were being illegally logged each year during the early 1990s (Callister, 1999). Figures from a range of NGOs and environmental research institutes suggest that over 50% of all logging in certain vulnerable regions is illegal. A World Bank-commissioned study (Contreras-Hermosilla, 2001) reported that 80% of logging in Brazil was illegal in the late 1990s, as was 80 to 90% of forest clearance in Bolivia and 94% of logging in Cambodia (there is now a ban on all log exports, ITTO, 2005: 45). The Indonesian government:

   estimates that approximately 2.8 million ha [one hectare (ha)
   equals 2.47 acres] of forests are being cut down and the resulting
   logs and forest products smuggled each year. It also predicts that
   at such a rate the country would lose all of its forests in the
   next 20 years (ITTO, 2005: 45).

In Russia, levels of illegal logging are believed to vary widely between regions, with suggestions that as much as 70% in the far east and 100% in the Caucasus is illegal (Ottisch et al., 2005). The International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO, 2004) estimates the trade in stolen timber between East and Southeast Asian countries is worth U.S.$2.5 billion annually. (3) China is now the world's largest consumer of illegal timber, with Indonesia the largest tropical supplier (Telepak and EIA, 2005).

The consequences can be devastating: illegal and unsustainable legal logging contributes to deforestation (directly and by opening forests up to other destructive activities), destroying the world's greatest reservoirs of biodiversity, threatening species such as the great apes in equatorial Africa and orangutans in Borneo, and hastening climate change (Barraclough and Ghimire, 1995; Dudley et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.