Do jobs grow on trees?


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Of course they do. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that in the late 1990s forestry and forest-product industries provided 47 million jobs worldwide. Of those, forestry, wood industries, and furniture activities each generated 10-15 million jobs and about five million people worked in the pulp and paper industry. Practically 70% of the employment in

forestry, wood industries, and furniture came from informal and subsistence activities.

The recent ILO report "Social and Labour Dimensions of the Forestry and Wood Industries on the Move" by Peter Poschen and Mattias Lovgren is about as good as it gets when it comes to looking at what’s happening to working people in the forestry sector and why. They show that during the 1990s:

* Production grew in most industrialized countries, but employment declined. More productive technologies put people out of work. For similar reasons, very substantial increases in output barely translated into new jobs in Chile.

* Forest-related activities did create many new jobs in certain developing countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Africa. However, that may soon change due to restrictions on logging, the depletion of timber resources, and increased competition from lower cost producers.

* Privatization and the re-structuring of state-owned firms in the Russian Federation caused more than one million workers to loose their jobs.

* Forestry continued to be one of the three most hazardous occupations in almost all countries. In Malaysia, for example, over a three-year period work-related accidents killed or permanently disabled one out of every eight workers.

* Many companies have started to contract out forestry activities to contractors to reduce costs. In Brazil, Chile and South Africa that has led to lower wages and poorer working conditions.

So yes, jobs do grow on trees, but it seems like large companies using modern technology may not provide so many of them in the future. Informal forestry and processing activities continue to employ tens of millions of people, mostly in the tropics. As Poschen and Lovgren point out, we still know little about what is happening to those people. We should probably find out.

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Further reading

You can obtain a free electronic copy of the ILO document in English, French and Spanish at the following address:

To send comments or to request an electronic copy of the document directly from the author you can write Peter Poschen at: Developing country colleagues may also request free hardcopies of the report.