Timber | China

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Salient Themes

Areas of Most Severe Impacts

  • Labour

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The main products China exports are processed products, particularly wooden furniture, plywood, and joinery. It is reported that China’s wood industry consists of about 100,000 individual companies, most of them small and medium-sized enterprises. Among them are more than 6,000 plywood manufacturers, more than 10,000 veneer mills, 650 particleboard mills, 25,000-50,000 furniture manufacturers (where the upper limit includes small mills). The Chinese wood products industry has a wide range of export destinations. The USA and Japan are the most important ones. The Netherlands accounts for less than 2.8% of export value in 2018.

Dutch Context

For the Netherlands China is important with respect to the import of semi-finished and finished tropical timber products and China ranks first in the import lists to the Netherlands. At the same time, there are currently not (or very few) members of the VVNH that do business with Chinese companies.


Potential and actual adverse impacts have been reported regarding:
– Decent Work
– Occupational Safety and Health
– Freedom of Association & Collective Bargaining

Reports indicate that:
There is legislation in Chine to ensure safety at the workplace. However, it was explained that in China anything can happen as the focus in the timber industry is on cheap and fast production. In the category of occupational safety and health risks have been identified: high levels of dust that may lead to a lack of oxygen, lack of hygiene in bathrooms, risks of fatal and non-fatal accidents, mental health problems of workers (dark workplaces, unfavourable working conditions), exposure of workers to hazardous chemicals and substances (self-mixed glue) and lack of awareness of such chemicals, unsafe construction of the building (holes in the floor, fragile roof support), malfunctioning or unsafe machinery (including removal of safety caps), major risk of a lack of PPEs, lack of fire safety and emergency preparedness and response, in-factory traffic accidents and hearing damage.

Additional reported observations:
• In China, factories provide workers with meals. The quality and quantity of the food is unknown.
• It is very common in China that there is accommodation/ barracks for employees, especially for those workers who operate the machines.
• Although respiratory problems of workers were not observed during the factory visits, it was indicated that it would be likely for some staff to develop them with time, for example workers handling chemicals.

Region Guanxi Zhuang
Workers engaged in low intensity operation as well as FMEs employing them have little awareness of wearing the necessary devices, such as glove, helmet, special trousers and boots for safety consideration. Some FMUs even have no safety rules in place and they don’t prepare and provide the safety devices for their worker’s labor. Most workers, especially older or skilled ones, are often reluctant to use the safety equipment. Meanwhile, the training concerning safety is insufficient. According to the on-site interviews and expert interviews, FMUs, especially the small and medium ones, pay little attention to the safety training. Few of them developed the training procedure and little training have been provided to workers, who are also oblivious of training

Forest management companies in Guangxi often outsource harvesting operation. There’s are increasing number of foreign workers working in forest management farms, although it is difficult to acquire the exact percentage or number. Many foreign workers are Vietnamese illegal immigrants. Though there are contracts between these companies and contractors, there is no contract between contractors and labors, let alone insurance. Further, a significant number of small and medium companies fail to sign labor contracts and pay social security. In private forest management enterprises, it is common that forestry workers commonly work overtime, cannot take legally required leave and payments for overtime working are slow to be received. Furthermore, the delayed payment of social insurance often occurs in forest farms in Guangxi. The overworking is common in the forest sector. 90% of forestry technician or workers cannot be approved for a paid annual leave, which does not comply with labor law.

Region Shandong
Some state-owned forest farms and private forest management enterprises, especially the small and medium ones have problems in health and safety. Workers engaged in low intensity operation and FMUs employing them have little awareness of wearing the necessary devices, such glove, helmet, special trousers and boots for safety consideration. Some FMUs have no safety rules in place and they don’t prepare and provide the safety devices for their workers. A small number of FMUs developed the safety rules which require the wearing the safety devices, most workers, especially older or skilled ones, are often reluctant to use the safety equipment.

FMUs, especially the small and medium ones, pay little attention to the safety training on safety. Few of them developed the training procedure and little training has been provided to workers, who are also oblivious of training. Although state-owned forest farms provide training, the training system is imperfect. The collective-owned forest farms and processors have employed a number of migrant workers. Generally, the enterprises signed labour contracts with them and pay social security, but there are still a number of enterprises that fail to sign contracts or pay social security in order to save costs. Some small-scale forest management enterprises usually hired their relatives or neighbors without labor contract and accidental insurance

Some large-scale private forest management companies often outsourced harvesting operation to harvesting groups that usually hire temporary labors. The company would not compulsively demand that the labor contractor between the group and temporary labors shall be signed or the social security for labors must be paid correspondingly. Additionally, many stated-owned forest farms in Shandong also sell standing trees, which are cut by buyers. There is no compulsive demand from the farms for labor contract or social security insurance provided by buyers to their hired workers

Environment & Public Health

Potential and actual adverse impacts on the Environment & Public Health have been reported regarding:
– Healthy Environment
– Community Safety
– Climate Change

Reports indicate that:
China is suffering from many environmental problems including high carbon emissions, poor air quality, fresh water scarcity, contamination of water bodies and soils, and hazardous waste. To address these problems, the government is enacting new and stricter laws and regulations. Regarding environment and communities’ health and safety very limited data is available. There are initiatives to promote energy reduction and prevent dust problems in the environment of factories.

Due to chemical impregnating of wood (chrome, copper), there is a risk these substances end up in the environment (for example through leaching during usage, storage and waste phases) and harm plants, animals and humans.


Potential and actual adverse impacts on Land have been reported regarding:
– Land and Natural Resources

Reports indicate that:
There are conflicts in relation to land rent and timber purchasing between private forest companies and local communities, occurring mainly in Hainan, Guangxi, Guangdong and Yunnan Provinces. These conflicts focused on unfair rent, insufficient transparency in land tenure lease procedures and low timber prices. There were also related reports for Fujian, Jiangxi and Henan Provinces. Reports have revealed that foreign forest companies in the past have secured forest land tenure by inappropriate means, which often violated (or at least insufficiently protected) individual farmers’ land rights. Overall, there are still forest lands that fails to be registered and issued with a certificate. And disputes of forest tenure transfer contract still exist between large plantation companies and local community.

Culture & Indigenous Peoples

Potential and actual adverse impacts on Culture & Indigenous Peoples have been reported regarding:

Reports indicate that:
Chinese government signed the declaration of the United Nations “Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples”. But the government announced that there are no indigenous people (IP) in China. ILO169 Convention also was not signed by the government. It has been debated whether or not there are indigenous peoples existing in China. The SDG (standard development group) developed a new definition of Indigenous people which only be used in FSC standard to protect the target group. Based on the agreement, the ethnic groups that could meet these definitions regarded as IP, but in China’s
law framework there is no IP but ethnic groups. So, it could be concluded that there is no IP based on national Chinese law while in reality there are some groups that could meet the SDG’s definition developed based on FSC principles.

Most minorities live in forest areas in China. The autonomous organs of self-government have developed relevant policies and regulations to protect traditional culture and traditional rights, which include the resolution mechanism on traditional rights conflicts. No data was found on the performance of this resolution mechanism.


IRBC agreement ‘Promotion of sustainable Forestry’ (2020).International responsible business conduct in tropical timber value chains.

In the report only few country-specific information was provided and most presented general trends in tropical timber processing for the focus countries. The subsectors covered are the plywood industry and furniture manufacturing.

FSC (2018). Centralized National Risk Assessment for Shandong Province, China.

FSC (2018). Centralized National Risk Assessment for Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China.


Company data provided by SPOTT. This data assesses multiple timber and pulp producers and traders on the public disclosure of their corporate commitments to environmental, social and governance (ESG) best practice. Each company receives a percentage score as a measure of its transparency in relation to ESG risks.

Latest update: July 2020 | Next scheduled: July 2021