The second instalment of the ESRC Green Criminology Research Seminar Series took place last week in Cardiff, discussing the dual issues of illegal timber trafficking, discussed by Professor Tim Boekhout Van Solinge of Utrecht University and focused primarily on the Amazon, and the illegal wildlife trade, discussed by Charlotte Davies of the Environmental Investigations Agency and focused on the sale of tiger furs in Asia.
One of the interesting topics raised in the timber talk was the issue of academics writing about their research when it concerned big business and the risk of subsequent litigation. While the results of academic research should be shared freely and openly and used to further objective research, when large firms are involved it poses a risk to the author and therefore provides a dilemma. Interestingly, too, while violence against environmentalists often poses a threat (see previous posts on this blog for further information), this threat of litigation is also a big concern. It seems therefore that environmentalists face both physical and fiscal threats.
A promising development did emerge from both talks, which is that new regulation is being brought in by the EU that forces companies to show they carried out due diligence to ensure their products were sourced legally. However, it is questionable how effective these laws will be and how effective the punishment they provide will be as a deterrent to large firms. The timber often comes from regions that are very corrupt, and so getting official stamps or certification is not particularly difficult. The notion of ‘due diligence’ is also of questionable value, since it seems to potentially offer a shield for companies to say they did what they could, even if they are not actually doing that much to prevent the illegal trade. That said, it is a promising sign that the EU are bringing in such legislation, and it offers hope for the future.
The second talk discussed the issue of a parallel legal and illegal trade in tiger furs and the grave problems associated with this, which also have wider implications for discussions over the rhino horn and ivory trades and arguments to legalise them. The legal trade in tiger furs in China is making it easier for the illegal trade to occur, as wild tiger furs are mixed in with those from caged tigers and dog coats that have tiger stripes painted on them. The certification process for the skins is so weak, and the knowledge of officials involved so poor, that many illegally traded furs make it to market with ease. Therefore only by radically overhauling the certification system or banning the trade in furs altogether can the problem be solved.
This post is but a brief snapshot of a seminar that raised some very interesting issues and provided useful and detailed information about the issues involved (the talks were filmed, so should soon be viewable on the link below). The emergence of green criminology offers a useful means of examining these issues and is another area where the importance of the environment has been for a long time overlooked but is now starting to be realised. And the series continues, with the next seminar taking place in June this year and focusing on the topic of ‘Wildlife Crime and Animal Abuse’. For more information about the series please visit: http://www.northumbria.ac.uk/sd/academic/sass/about/socscience/events/greencrime.
Richard Milburn, Marjan Centre