To date, Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) have taken different approaches to monitoring the implementation and impacts of the agreement. Broadly, there are four main types of monitoring, each of which is described in more detail below:
- Independent auditing
- Independent observation
- Independent market monitoring
- Impact monitoring by the parties to the agreement
Independent auditing is a key component of a timber legality assurance system and is compulsory in all VPAs. The purpose of independent auditing is to check that all aspects of a legality assurance system are working properly. An annex in each VPA provides terms of reference for the auditor. Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on independent audit.
Some VPA partner countries have created or acknowledged a role for independent observers to monitor forest law enforcement and governance as part of a VPA. Independent observers are usually civil society organisations. Observers' work can include:
- Assessing a VPA timber legality assurance system
- Assessing compliance with forest law, and reporting non-compliance
- Monitoring progress on transparency commitments, and legal and institutional reforms
- Tracking and recording law enforcement activities and responses to non-compliance
- Checking that a VPA conflict resolution mechanisms work
- Assessing VPA impacts
- Providing information to an independent auditor
- Monitoring the work of an independent auditor
- Raising complaints about failures in the audit process
- Suggesting ways to improve systems and strengthen law enforcement, and legal and regulatory frameworks
- Assessing the forest sector in general
Different VPAs frame and define independent observation in different ways, according to what stakeholders decide. Broadly, however, there are two forms of observation, which are complementary and may work in tandem:
- Observation formally integrated in the timber legality assurance system. In some countries, such as Indonesia, the independent observer is an integral part of the timber legality assurance system. Independent observers work by agreement with the government and are formally recognised in the VPA. The formal role facilitates access to information and forests, and cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
- Observation outside the timber legality assurance system, but recognised as contributing to a VPA. In other countries, in contrast, an independent observer provides an external check on the timber legality assurance system and wider governance issues. This form of independent observation is done directly by civil society, and is not formalised with respect to the timber legality assurance system. In some cases, civil society organisations have decided to stay outside the formal system to safeguard their independence and to avoid being constrained by a specific role or scope. Informal observation depends on observers being able to access information and hold governments to account, both aspects of governance that a VPA can address.
In most VPA countries, stakeholders have had a long debate on independent observation and whether it should have a formal role in a VPA.
Cameroon. The VPA does not recognise independent observation as such, but notes that civil society observation is a source of information for the independent auditor. The VPA notes that independent observation is a potential tool but not a compulsory part of the legality assurance system.
Central African Republic. The VPA notes that observation by civil society should be part of the legal reform process. It acknowledges the potential for independent observation to be part of the timber legality assurance system but notes a current lack of capacity. The local NGO platform involved in the VPA process has developed an independent observation strategy and envisages agreeing a permanent mandate with the government.
Ghana. Civil society organisations decided they could be stronger advocates outside the system than inside it. As a result, they chose not to work under a formal agreement with the government. The VPA makes no mention of independent observation.
Indonesia. In the VPA, the independent observer is called independent monitoring, and includes civil society organisations, individuals and communities. The VPA formally recognises independent observers as an integral part of the timber legality assurance system. The observers are considered to be a source of information for the independent auditor. The role of observer is performed primarily by JPIK, an informal network of more than 60 member organisations and more than 300 individuals. JPIK members may reassess the certificate of legality held by any operator. They can file complaints about operators, audit companies, the independent auditor, the licensing authority or the accreditation authority of the audit companies. JPIK can also raise complaints about wider issues, such as cases of corruption. The network is seeking official documentation from the government to confirm its right to access information and sites.
Liberia. The VPA recognises independent observation as a role for civil society and as a means of providing information to the independent auditor.
Republic of the Congo. The VPA outlines a role for civil society in observing the activities of logging and timber processing companies, and in providing information to the independent auditor. The VPA also notes that local civil society organisations should carry out independent observation as part of the timber legality assurance system.
Who is the independent observer?
In some countries, civil society organisations were already doing independent forest monitoring (see below) before the VPA process began. In other countries, the role is new. Although independent observers are usually nongovernmental organisations, private-sector stakeholders can also act as independent observers. NGO observers and private-sector monitors could feasibly work together.
Independent forest monitoring
Independent forest monitoring predates the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan and VPAs. Independent forest monitoring is distinct from VPA independent observation in that it assesses legal compliance in the forest sector. Although VPAs do not generally recognise independent forest monitors, monitors can still contribute to a VPA process. Countries with independent forest monitors that have entered or completed VPA negotiations include Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. Independent forest monitors are usually national or international nongovernmental organisations.
In all VPAs, the EU and VPA partner country make a joint commitment to monitor the economic, social and environmental effects of the agreement. Monitoring examines whether a VPA is having the desired outcomes. Monitoring informs government policymaking as assessments reflect the effectiveness of policies. Monitoring also can identify unintended negative effects for the parties to address and mitigate in line with a VPA article on social safeguards.
To implement the monitoring commitment, a VPA joint implementation committee establishes a monitoring framework that meets stakeholder needs. Areas to monitor may include institutional effectiveness, trade flows and market dynamics, illegal logging, forest condition, livelihoods and poverty, and economic development. The process to develop a monitoring system may require additional analysis and consultations to set baselines and explore options. The process should engage stakeholders to ensure their priorities are monitored over time.
- Cameroon's VPA. In 2014, the joint implementation committee established in a multistakeholder working group to develop a methodology to follow the social, economic and environmental impacts of the VPA. The joint implementation committee is responsible for endorsing the methodology.
- Ghana's VPA. The joint implementation committee created a multistakeholder subcommittee that worked with a consultant to consolidate the EU and Ghanaian priorities into a set of outputs, outcomes and impacts to monitor.
- Indonesia's VPA. The joint implementation committee established a multistakeholder technical working group to develop and test a national VPA impact monitoring system. The implementation committee is responsible for endorsing the system.
Independent market monitoring
The purpose of independent market monitoring is to assess how EU and wider markets respond to FLEGT-licensed timber. The independent market monitor will, among other things, analyse how FLEGT licensing affects trade flows, market developments and timber prices. The independent market monitor will provide VPA partner countries and the EU with reliable statistics that demonstrate the market performance of FLEGT-licensed timber.
The European Commission has awarded a five year contract to the International Tropical Timber Organization to conduct independent market monitoring, starting in 2014. Key objectives of the contract are to:
- Collect, analyse, report and distribute information on the acceptance and trends of FLEGT-licensed timber in the EU market
- Improve knowledge and understanding of the impacts of VPAs on timber prices, trade and market trends globally, especially with regard to VPA partner countries
- Ensure VPA countries and the EC provide reliable statistics and information on the trade in FLEGT-licensed timber
- Respond to requests from and inform decisions by the VPA joint implementation committees
- Provide independent, timely and accurate information on market impacts
- Contribute to monitoring the impacts of the FLEGT Action Plan and to inform its implementation
- Develop a long-term strategy for sustaining the independent market monitoring role in consultation with the EU and VPA partner countries
Related sections of VPA Unpacked
VPA annex on independent market monitoring
VPA annex on independent audit
Brack, D. and Leger, C. 2013 Exploring Credibility Gaps in Voluntary Partnership Agreements. A Review of Independent Monitoring Initiatives and Lessons to Learn. Independently published. [Download PDF]
International Tropical Timber Organization's FLEGT Independent Market Monitoring website http://www.itto.int/imm/
Meridian, A. et al. 2014. SVLK in the Eyes of the Monitor. Independent Monitoring and a Review of the Implementation of the Timber Legality Verification System 2011–2013. JPIK (Indonesia Independent Forestry Monitoring Network). [Download PDF]