Tracing timber legality in practice : The case of Ghana and the EU

Arts, Bas; Heukels, Bas; Turnhout, Esther


The traceability of products has become an ever more important topic in global value chains because governments, producers and consumers wish to have in-depth information on the origin, quality, safety and sustainability of the products they regulate, trade or buy. However, traceability systems come with criticisms and challenges. This article describes how timber traceability is being realized in Ghana in the context of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between Ghana and the EU, which is part of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative. Building on practice theory, this article conceptualizes traceability systems as ensembles of procedures, interpretations and activities. Empirically, it presents an analysis of the Ghanaian Legality Assurance System (LAS) and Wood Tracking System (WTS). Results show that the LAS/WTS moved from a ‘digitalized regulatory track-and-trace system’ on the design table towards a more hybrid one in practice, integrating elements of a communication governance mode and of a mass-balance model too, and keeping alive a parallel paper-based infrastructure. While particularly governmental officials are satisfied with the LAS/WTS, it is also important to recognize that stakeholders interpret aspects of the system quite differently, and deal with implementation issues on the ground quite differently, implying that ‘legality-on-paper’ and ‘legality-in-practice’ are not necessarily the same.