A new investigative project by students from UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism uncovers the criminal, environmental and social consequences of the illegal timber trade, one of the largest black markets in the world.
Ten graduate students in UBC’s International Reporting Program spent a year travelling to Indonesia, Cameroon, and Russia to investigate stories of communities affected by illegal logging and bring awareness to North American consumers who are buying furniture, paper and building materials made from this wood.
“Interpol estimates that up to 30 per cent of all wood products are made from trees that were illegally harvested,” said Keith Rozendal, one of the students involved in the project. “After learning that, I began to see wood products in a whole new light. Where did this item come from? Who profited and who was harmed?”
In Russia’s Far East, students discovered that massive amounts of illegally logged Russian hardwood are shipped to China, where the wood is turned into inexpensive furniture and other items for export to western consumers.
In Indonesia a student team challenged a representative of one of the world’s biggest paper companies on its damaging environmental history.
In Cameroon students encountered a scheme to deprive indigenous people of their livelihoods in their community forest. They also found an American guitar company in Africa trying to make a difference by building guitars from sustainably harvested ebony.
“We’re trying to focus not only on the problems, but also the solutions,” says Peter Klein, director of the International Reporting Program.
These stories have been captured on a multimedia website that looks at the origin of the wood and paper products in a typical North American home. The website, www.internationalreporting.org/cut was produced by UBC’s International Reporting students and the Centre for Digital Media.