The European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, established in 2003, aims to prevent the import of illegal timber into the EU, tackle illegal logging, and promote trade in legal and sustainably produced timber. Because it involves strengthening forest management and law enforcement practices in timber-supplying countries, FLEGT has implications for forest communities, and their participation is therefore seen as important for its successful implementation.
As one of the measures under the FLEGT Action Plan, bilateral agreements called Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) are negotiated between the EU and timber-producing countries (known as ‘FLEGT partner countries’). The timber-producing country commits to establish a legality assurance system (LAS), based on its own laws and regulations, to verify that the timber it licenses for export is legally produced, while the EU commits to prevent any wood from the timber-producing country that does not have a FLEGT Licence from being sold on the EU market. The legality assurance system requires a definition of ‘legally-produced timber’; tracing and control of wood products throughout the entire supply chain; processes for verification of compliance, and issuance of licenses; and independent third-party monitoring of the whole system. These elements are developed through a participatory multi-stakeholder dialogue, and negotiated with the EU, a process which may take several years.
Agreements and actions under FLEGT have direct implications for local and indigenous communities, who often own or depend upon significant parts of forests that are being used for timber production and export, or which may be used in future. These groups are included in the process of negotiating the VPA, as well as to support the development of community based forest management and to empower local people to prevent illegal logging. Under some initiatives that have been implemented in support of FLEGT this has included efforts to develop community based forest monitoring systems to detect illegal practices and report them through various new or established channels.
The text of existing VPAs also recognises that there is a need to monitor the impacts of the agreements on local communities, and mitigate any negative effects. For example, Article 17, Section 2 of the EU-Liberia VPA states that the parties to the agreement “shall monitor the impact of this Agreement on the communities…while taking reasonable steps to mitigate any adverse impact. The Parties may agree on additional measures to address any adverse impact”. Although the participation of local communities in designing the legality assurance system should reduce the risk of negative impacts on them, this provision provides an additional safeguard to ensure that the VPA will have a broadly positive impacts on communities and on the timber-producing country as a whole.