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Patrick Alley talk

Patrick Alley feature

Patrick Alley featureAnd so to our last talk, from Patrick Alley of Global Witness, recipients of the TED Prize.

He’s here to talk about a perfect crime, involving a whole host of shady characters. Some are obviously shady. Others wear suits and look like you and me. They destroy habitats, and people’s lives and lifestyles. They are involved in industrial logging in the Tropics.

Logging can be divided into criminal and legitimate, much the same except that the latter has better PR.

Patrick visited Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge return, earning millions of dollars from the trade in illegal logging. Later he was in Liberia, where Charles Taylor used income from logging to prop up his regime. Taylor doled out the rainforests to a coterie of business men. As the logs and money flowed out, the arms flowed in. When Taylor’s timber trade was subject to UN sanctions, the business men escaped intact, or carried on in the Congo.

What makes the crime so perfect is that the shady characters are propped up by less shady characters.

The big myth is that industrial logging in the Tropics brings sustainable development. It is neither sustainable nor does it bring development. It has created the euphemism “sustainable forest management”. In the last decade, Cambodia has lost its forests faster than anywhere, and a generation of farmers has been forced off the land. This despite the World Bank’s involvement. The war ended in 2003 in Liberia, but the problems haven’t been solved, and discontent is growing again. But if sustainable forest management can’t work in a small country, where can it work?

In order to sell the myth, the logging industry requires people to buy in. In Sarawak, a few have become rich using loans from international bank HSBC. The WWF believe logging is inevitable, and want to try to regulate it. But active members of the WWF scheme are involved in illegal logging and human rights abuse. The FSC rainforest logo on loo roll is also problematic. It’s another tool used by loggers to cover their tracks.

Forests are the world’s lungs, regulating water and climate systems. They are home to about half the world’s biodiversity. We can do something, if we regard the rainforests as a fundamental part of the biosphere that gives more value than the financial return. Brazil has recognised indigenous rights, returning power from vested interests to the local communities, a step in the right direction. Similar smaller steps are being made in Liberia. Some rich countries are paying poor countries not to cut the forests down, but more money is needed.

What can and should be done? End impunity, and prosecute the criminals. Stop governments financing destruction using our taxes. Campaign against banks bankrolling the destruction. Encourage WWF to do their job. They need to condemn industrial logging straight out. Reduce our soaring consumption.

Otherwise, we will all, loggers included, become victims of the perfect crime.

Patrick Alley biography

Patrick Alley BW

Patrick AlleyPatrick Alley is a director of Global Witness and co-founded the organisation in 1993. He took part in Global Witness’ first investigations into the Thai-Khmer Rouge timber trade in 1995. Since then he has taken part in over fifty field investigations in South East Asia, Africa and Europe and in subsequent advocacy activities. In addition to his involvement in the organisation’s experience of tackling conflict diamonds and the former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s ‘arms for timber’ trade, Patrick focuses on the issue of conflict resources, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the past in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. Patrick also specialises in Global Witness’ work on forest and land issues, especially challenging industrial scale logging and land grabbing in the tropics. In addition, he is involved in the strategic leadership of Global Witness.

Global Witness was jointly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on conflict diamonds, which led to the establishment of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, and co-founded the Publish What You Pay Coalition, which in turn led to the creation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.