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January 25, 2013

Proposed standard for due diligence requirement of the Lacey Act

I recently had the opportunity to serve as a member of an International Wood Products Association (IWPA) task force charged with reviewing and commenting upon a proposed standard for meeting the due diligence requirement of the Lacey Act.

As most everyone in the wood products industry is aware, the Lacey Act was amended in 2009 to include wood products. This amendment makes it illegal to trade wood products in the US that are produced in such a way so as to be in violation of laws of the country of origin. This law applies to imported wood products and domestically produced wood products that cross state lines. Under the law, buyers are required to exercise due diligence to ensure that the products they purchase are legally produced. All segments of the wood products industry have wrestled with the question of what constitutes due diligence since it is not specified in the law.

In an effort to answer this question, the Hardwood Plywood Veneer Association (HPVA) has written a proposed ANSI standard titled, Standard for Due Diligence in Procuring/Sourcing Legal Timber. In August 2012, the proposed standard was sent to many industry associations requesting comments. The first comment period closed in December. After making revisions, HPVA will open a second comment period, but no date is set for that. I have several concerns about this standard as it was originally written. Here are a few that I hope are addressed in the revision.

The methods for assessing legality under this standard are heavily weighted to country risk. If illegal products are believed to have originated from a particular country in the past, that country is put into a very high risk category and any wood products from it are eliminated from the supply chain. This does not make any provision for responsible companies operating in high risk countries. I believe that we should encourage responsible wood products producers in any country. If we do not help make responsible producers economically viable, then timberland will be converted to agricultural or other uses.

The standard includes broad statements eliminating wood products from areas associated with armed conflict, human right violations, or in violation of UN Sanctions from the supply chain. With the United States at war in Afghanistan, this requirement could be interpreted to eliminate US hardwood production – among the most sustainable on the planet. While this was not the intent of HPVA, it is an example of how the standard’s broad and non-specific statements could be misinterpreted.

The standard proposes that buying product that originates under a “Sustainable Forest Management certification scheme” (SFM) constitutes due diligence. The most well known SFM is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). As stewards of our planet’s forests, companies such as Robinson Lumber Company are in favor of sustainability in all aspects; this has nothing to do with the Lacey Act, which is solely focused on legality. All reference to sustainability should be removed.

I commend the HPVA for assuming such a difficult task. Writing a standard that can be applied across such a diverse industry in a fair way is going to take much more time. Meanwhile, any company in any segment of the wood products industry must exercise “due diligence” to ensure that all wood products in their supply chain are legally produced.

Joe Buckhaults
VP FLooring Division
Robinson Lumber Company, Inc.

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