Investigation: Dodgy wood trafficking continues on Facebook

An open-data investigation into Facebook reveals how wood traders use the platform unchecked to traffick large quantities of logs from Africa to Vietnam, some violating national export rules or breaching treaties for endangered wildlife. Despite pledges to curb illegal wildlife trade, Facebook’s blind spot is a boon for timber traffickers and a curse for the environment.

Investigation finds that Facebook allows Vietnamese timber log smugglers to traffick wood from Africa with impunity
Post by one Vietnamese Facebook account who imports wood in a big fashion. Since 2010, the African nation of Gabon maintains a ban on log exports (source)
Most of the billion of dollars’ worth of wood exported from Nigeria over the past four years was illegal, data suggests. This investigation followed the activities of a number of Vietnamese Facebook accounts who posted images of containers that allowed to track down the export and import location, from ports in Nigeria and other African nations to Ho Chi Minh City and other destinations. In Nigeria, it’s possible wood is illegally deforested or/and exported in contravention with state or federal laws. The rosewood trade may have benefited the terrorist group Boko Haram, a report by EIA states. EIA said that almost all the Kosso wood coming from and through Nigeria for the past three years has been illegal. Taraba, the primary producer state has prohibited all felling of Kosso. All exports of logs occur in contravention of the long-standing federal log export ban, researchers say.
Tracking the trade of logs from Nigeria to Vietnam, a typical export route for timber smugglers
Part of Tran Manh’s track record of posts on Facebook, often offering a larger quantity of mostly African wood logs to buyers in Vietnam. EIA campaigner Thomas Chung says: “This list is a good example of the hundreds if not thousands of traders on social media. The ones picked [by Tran Manh] seem quite careless as they are very open about their goods — normally, these offers are much more subtle”.
A Vietnamese trader who advertised nice containers of Kosso wood from Taraba in 2016, an illegal act under export and CITES regulation. The post is still live.

Open groups: ‘Vietnam Wood Market’

Via Facebook likes, Trần Mạnh links to other Vietnamese wood importers
A blanket ban of all tree species was enacted by Zambia, Reuters reports. Growing international demand for timber and high prices most Zambian harvesters are felling the forests without a license and exporting them illegally to Asia, experts say. Zambia now only gives export permits for processed or sawn wood, saying it wants to boost the country’s timber manufacturing sector: The image shows an ad from July, 2021, reading: “Super cheap Zambia[n] flavour. Expected to dock ”. The container number suggests the shipment arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam. The ad was posted on a large Facebook group ‘Vietnam Wood Market’ on July 19, 2021
Protected wood exports should be tightly regulated. That’s often not the case. A recent example shows where companies exploited loopholes to export large quantities of Kosso wood from the African nation Mail to China, according to an investigation by France24 The Observers from last year.
An offering from a Nigerian wood trader who posted on Trần Mạnh’s Facebook wall. This investigation reached out to the account and asked questions about what it takes to illegally traffick African Kosso wood to Vietnam
Photo message from Nigerian wood trader Obawale on Facebook. Kosso (rosewood) tree trunks were cut down for export trade and offered to an investigative journalist producing this story. The UN says that after Kosso was listed under CITES, more rosewood was exported from Africa than ever before, but this time with CITES documentation — presumably, including forged papers. “Nigeria alone exported some 750,000 cubic metres of rosewood in 2017, which is equivalent to about four million trees, or over 30,000 shipping containers, an average of almost 100 container loads exported per day (across 2017)”, the UN report states. Nigeria’s inability to bring scientific non-detriment findings a recommendation by CITES followed to suspend trade from the country in October of 2018, sources say.
Kosso wood from Taraba state (Facebook)
“Unless you want to go through Vietnam, you need to pay extra money to get a real [certificate]”, a trader spills the beans on how the rosewood trade between Africa and Asia works (EIA report)
LEFT: Kosso for sale posted by a Vietnamese Facebook account (a hair salon) with a number of Vietnamese users expressing interest. RIGHT: Kosso offered by a Vietnamese account posing as a ‘building material’ business
A professional account offering ‘Gỗ Hương Kosso’, among other species
Company Londonwood.vn still advertises Kosso, above a post from July 2020 (the post is still up). The account has 1,013 followers. In July, 2021, this investigation reached out to Londonwood via a provided Whatsapp number. The account explains that over the past two years, trades of Kosso had been banned for both export and import. Yet, the firm’s post remains live.
What is Kosso and how to spot it? This Facebook account offers detailed information on the appearance of the type of Rosewood and says it's a rising star in Vietnam’s wood processing sector

IDing wood is hard

What can governments do?

Hương đá

Left, Kevazingo wood, right, image post by a Vietnamese trader advertising ‘Hương đá’

Facebook and others

The Facebook account shows
Source: Linkedin

Facebook and deforestation: Pressure from Facebook Marketplace

Selling the rainforest: Facebook Marketplace ad for a place in Brazil: ‘Terreno com 24200 m coberto de mata nativa para venda’ R$100,000 = 19,000 USD Area with 2,42 acres all formed in sterling wood, ideal for seed exploration, beekeeping, carbon credit, leisure in nature (link) — analysis: BH

Investigative journalist with a technical edge, interested in open source investigations, satellite imgs, R, python, AI, data journalism and injustice