Faced with endemic timber theft and uneven government enforcement, logging companies in Chile have agreed to new guidelines meant to cut down on the sale of illegal wood.
On August 11, six of Chile’s largest logging unions joined forces to establish a campaign to combat timber trafficking and theft, which results in losses of over $70 million a year, according to organizers. In May, police stopped one convoy of seven trucks carrying 161 meters of stolen pine wood, worth an estimated $10.5 million.
The framework, named “Buena Madera, confiable desde su origen,” (Good wood, with a trustworthy origin), has three aims: to educate consumers about the origin of the wood they buy, to protect workers and small and medium enterprises in the timber industry and to develop a system to track illegal wood, starting from supervising each truck carrying timber.
Sixty-five logging companies, accounting for 70 percent of Chile’s wood production, have signed up to abide by the new guidelines, which require them to provide more thorough information on the origin, destination and legality of their timber.
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The unions involved stated that this move was all the more necessary due to weak government support for the issue.
In August 2018, the Chilean Senate introduced a bill to strengthen law enforcement surrounding logging theft and improve the prosecution of the criminals involved. But the bill was rejected by the Senate in January 2020. A new bill with similar goals was presented in March 2021 but has not yet been voted on.
This legislative deadlock has come amid repeated attacks on logging workers, who have also seen their families and homes targeted and their machinery stolen.
Accusations of lackluster government enforcement are nothing new. Last September, the head of Chile's forestry workers' union, René Muñoz, lambasted the government as being "cowards because they have the tools but don't want to do anything."
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According to a report by BioBioChile, illegal loggers operate by trespassing in forests owned by licensed logging firms, removing the wood, and then loading it up onto trucks to take to ports.
Other times, gunmen will hijack already trucks loaded with timber.
Timber traffickers will then falsify information about the wood's origins, masking it as legally sourced to allow it to be shipped and sold.
The Buena Madera framework is targeting this particular issue by raising the standard for background information on wood shipments.
But not all issues in Chile's logging industry can be solved by tighter regulations. The Indigenous Mapuche people have a long history of grievances against the logging industry, accusing companies of repeatedly encroaching on their lands and destroying natural resources.
In 2020 and 2021, dozens of trucks belonging to timber companies have been set on fire, allegedly by Mapuche community members, amid a range of violent acts targeting officials and businesses.