It is estimated that 30% of the world's area is covered by forests - around 4 billion ha, with around half of that area found in only 5 countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the USA and China.
Forests are home to at least 350 million people, with 1.6 billion people depending in varying degrees for their livelihoods, in the form of fuel, medicines and forest foods.
Some 13,2 million people are employed in the formal forestry sector, producing goods and services worth around just over USD 600 billion to the formal global economy. However, the informal and subsistence economy is much larger. Informal employment in forestry sector is estimated to amount at least 41 million people. The majority of forestry workers live today in poverty, without access to many basic services.
Forests, if sustainably managed, can make a major contribution to the mitigation of climate change and contribute to greater social advances and equality. To be sustainable, forests must be managed so that they are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. Forest workers throughout the world can play a key role in maintaining our forests, provided that their rights are respected and that they can freely join trade unions and negotiate collectively to attain a more equitable share of the economic gains which they help produce. BWI opposes logging practices which are illegal and those which are unsustainable.
In recent years, systems of forestry certification have been growing in importance due to increased awareness by consumers and decision-makers. BWI supports all certification systems which include in their criteria the respect of the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation. These guarantee basic workers rights of freedom of association and outlaw both child and forced labour.
Forestry and wood workers are involved in all aspects of the forestry industry such as harvesting and re-planting. Wood workers are employed in sawmills, board factories, panel production, as well as the industries producing doors, windows and furniture.
Employment patterns in the forestry and wood industries are showing a shift away from the global "North" to the "South". This is in part due to technological changes in the industry and as companies, often major multinationals, move operations towards new markets and closer to the sources of wood, which is becoming ever scarcer.
BWI operates a global wood and forestry programme which seeks to bring together trade unions representing workers in these industries, and which can provide a platform for them to increase their mutual solidarity and build an understanding of the global industry and develop policies which support increased sustainability. It also seeks to assist workers in the informal sectors to come together to collectively improve their situation. It works to strengthen the position of women both in their trade unions and communities.
BWI assists workers to develop a stronger voice so that they can play an active part in a dialogue with decision-makers, multinational and local employers and other stakeholders, and so that forestry and wood workers can enjoy a better working life, rewarded appropriately, and in a working environment which is safe and free from the risk of injury and industrial disease.