At-risk timber in the building materials supply chain

Grace Farms Chief Accountability Officer and Justice Initiative Director Rod Khattabi speaks with Nature Initiative Director Mark Fowler and Associate Professor at the University of Maryland Meredith Gore, about how timber, a ubiquitous material in the building materials supply chain, is susceptible to forced labor and what we can collectively do to mitigate our risk and combat modern slavery.

Rod Khattabi
Chief Accountability Officer and Justice Initiative Director, Grace Farms Foundation

Mark Fowler
Nature Initiative Director, Grace Farms Foundation

Meredith Gore, Ph.D.
Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Maryland

According to the Global Slavery Index , timber ranks as the fifth largest imported commodity that is at risk of being processed with forced labor and it is estimated that up to 50% of illegal logging globally is dependent on forced labor. Illegal logging is not just associated with modern slavery, but also with other illicit activities such as militias, child soldiers, organized crime and terrorist outfits.   

Dr. Meredith Gore,  associate professor at the University of Maryland and a recognized expert in conservation issues including illegal logging, asserts there are ways that the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors may partner on the effort to combat forced labor in timber as well as illegal logging. “I believe that there are three things that the United States and the private sector can do to try to reduce their involvement in perpetuating [these crimes]: 

  1. Gain awareness about the sourcing of products and their supply chains.
  2. Collaboration is key by bringing together key stakeholders such as the private sector, scientists, foundations, and law enforcement agencies to better understand the big picture.
  3. Harness usable and meaningful data to inform policies and interventions that can disrupt the illegal supply chain.

Work to combat illegal logging and forced labor in timber represents an ongoing monitoring effort, with human rights policies enforced upon suppliers. Without proper due diligence, a supply chain may be easily exploited. Leaders of the built environment must understand the interconnections that exist between their bottom line and these broader security issues posed by natural resource and human exploitation.

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