Rougier, a committed player in sustainable forest management

 Founded in 1923, Rougier was one of the first forestry companies to commit to sustainable forest management in the 1980s.
Vice-President Francis Rougier and Corporate Social Responsibility Director Paul-Emmanuel Huet explain how the group protects the environment and fosters local development in Africa.

In a few words, who are Rougier?

Francis Rougier: Rougier is a family-owned group based in Western France. The company was founded over 90 years ago and has always focused on the wood industry. Today, we sell tropical wood in 50 countries and import wood from different countries into France. Rougier is a publicly traded company with annual sales of approximately €170 million. We have 3,000 employees, mostly in Africa, where we have had a significant presence for over 60 years in Congo, Cameroon and Gabon, as well as recently arriving in the Central African Republic.

What does your environmentally responsible approach mean in practice?

Paul-Emmanuel Huet: For several years now, we have been committed to a rigorous sustainable forest management policy for all of our activities, from the farming of tropical wood and its preparation in Africa to distribution in the French market. Our policy means gradually implementing dedicated teams and adopting a range of tools. Firstly, we implement forest management plans for each of our concessions. This enables us to better understand the forest and plan how to use it responsibly: which types of wood we can harvest and how, where, and from what tree diameter... Secondly, FSC sustainable forest certification. This voluntary certification programme proves to our customers and other stakeholders that the wood we sell is produced in sustainably managed forests, where we respect not just the resource itself but also the people and local wildlife that live in the forest. Over 50% of the 2.1 million hectares that Rougier exploits in Africa are already FSC certified. For the concessions that aren't yet FSC certified, we have documentation that proves that our operations are legal, traceable, and fully compliant with all of the applicable regulations, including forestry, labour and tax regulations.

F. R.: In practical terms, the rigorous application of these forest management plans means that we cut one tree per hectare every 30 years. Only six companies in the Congo basin are currently FSC certified.

What does Rougier do to support its employees and the wider local communities in the countries where it operates?

P-E. H: Sustainable forest management also includes social issues, so we are involved in both internal initiatives to benefit our employees and their families, and external initiatives to support local residents. Remember that we work on isolated sites which are hard to access. So, we set up base camps, which means building housing and providing drinking water, electricity, waste water treatment, waste management and disposal, and more. We also build healthcare centres and schools, where the staff are often paid by the group. You could say we manage small towns. Local residents have access to most of these infrastructures and services. If you live in a village located 30-40km from a Rougier site, you have access to free consultations at the Rougier healthcare centre, for example. We also contribute to local development in two ways. One of those is through the forestry taxes we pay. We also provide additional financial and human resources to support initiatives like agricultural projects.

In the coming years, are you planning to go further?

P-E. H: All of these actions take vast amounts of human and financial resources, time and energy. The problem is that most of the other players in the Congo basin don't share our commitment, and it doesn't always lead to higher sales. So, we are currently looking both at how we can generate value and promote our efforts and at the economic viability of our model. The ultimate goal is for our commitment to the environment and sustainability to become a convincing commercial argument, to bring people together and to get other stakeholders involved. Our aim is to get the forestry sector moving in the right direction.

How does Societe Generale support your development?

F. R: Over the past 15 years, our business model has shifted towards increasing industrialisation in the Congo basin, which requires significant funding. Banks have supported us in this transformation over the years. The banks that provide the best support are the ones that understand the African aspect of our business and who really know the area. This is certainly the case with Societe Generale, who have African subsidiaries that we work with on a daily basis. Our relationship is easier because we speak the same language and they understand what we do and the challenges we face, as well as our hopes and perspectives for the future.

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