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The GFTN Guide to Legal and Responsible Sourcing

Improving the Quality of Data from Suppliers

Below is a list of common issues that arise when suppliers are asked questions regarding their sourcing of forest products. The list is not exhaustive but gives remedies for the major issues.

Information from the supplier is missing
Major gaps in data make it difficult to make any form of assessment. Talk to the supplier and find out why it cannot or did not provide the data requested. If the supplier does not have the technical expertise, ask that it request that its own suppliers furnish the missing data, and ask that it collate these data for you. Agree on a date by which the data will be provided.

The supplier misunderstood the question
Make contact with the supplier and explain why you are asking the question and what sort of answer you require.

Supplier refuses to complete the questionnaire
The supplier may refuse to complete questionnaires or provide data. Lack of resources is a common excuse, as is “company policy.” Explain to the supplier that your requests are valid and that they are routinely made of all your suppliers. Small suppliers may have genuine concerns about committing time and resources to providing data; in such circumstances agree that the data can be provided in small segments over an agreed-to period of time.

Suppliers that continue to avoid supplying data should be given an ultimatum, and after this point they should removed from the chain of supply. However, this is a last resort, and the intervention of senior management on both sides may be useful to maintain a dialogue and avoid this.

Supplier expresses concerns about confidentiality
In some industries and in some countries it is common to encounter concerns over the confidentiality of supply chain data. This can be overcome in a number of ways; for example, suppliers can be given verbal assurance that the data are used for environmental purposes and will not be used in a commercial context, or they could be given a signed confidentiality agreement. The provision of data may have to be made in a manner that furnishes the required information without revealing the names of commercial intermediaries or processors. Full disclosure is preferred, however, and may come in time as part of an action plan.

Supplier “does not feel responsible”
Some suppliers do not feel obliged to respond to requests for supply chain data. Arguments can vary from a position of “being too small to have any effect” to “it is none of your business.”
Suppliers in this situation should be given an opportunity to reflect on their position. Experience has shown that companies with little regard for their customers’ expectations and requirements usually fail. If a supplier cannot change its opinions and recognize your point of view it should have no place in your supply chain.

Supplier cannot prove high-risk sources are licensed
A range of techniques can be used to assess the legality of forest products, and a number of documentary proofs are mentioned within this text. Depending on your supplier’s place within the supply chain, obtaining such proofs may prove difficult. Those supply chain elements farthest removed from the forests or primary processors will experience the greatest difficulty in obtaining the required documentation. Options to address this difficulty include

  • giving the supplier time to obtain the required documents,
  • encouraging the supplier to source forest products in less controversial areas,
  • encouraging the supplier to seek independent certification for its forest products, or
  • encouraging the supplier to obtain a third-party legal verification audit (verified legal timber).

Supplier cannot prove that sources are not HCVFs
HCVFs often are difficult to assess, but there are organizations that monitor the existence and exploitation of HCVFs and the organizations involved. Both your own purchasing organization and the supplier involved can draw on these sources to rudimentarily assess the sources identified. Information regarding a definition of HCVFs and sources of information on their role in trade can be found in Appendix 1 and elsewhere in this document.

Many areas lack HCVF identification processes, which by definition involve participation of multiple stakeholders. Even if the HCVFs in a particular area have not been identified, the supplier can contribute constructively to an HCVF process; larger suppliers can even initiate and help fund such processes. As part of the action plan, suppliers should state what contribution they are making to further the HCVF identification and management process in the regions where they are sourcing. When neither the supplier nor the purchasing organization can identify a source as HCVF or non-HCVF, you will have to take a judgment based on the best information available. WWF and other stakeholders should be contacted for the latest information available on particular forests.

A third party has indicated that a supplier may be using timber from conversion land
Request information from the supplier, such as a summary of the management plan for the forest, that indicates the land use and prescribed management practices. If the land is designated for conversion to agriculture or faces a similar threat, investigate further to ensure that the clearance is appropriate (see here). If the supplier is unable to provide suitable assurance, agree on an action plan to remedy or change the source.


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