Home Depot, Lowe's selling illegal wood from Papua New Guinea-Report
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
March 23, 2006
"Leading retailers, including The Home Depot and Lowe's, and the flooring brands they market, including Armstrong, are making false environmental claims while selling merbau flooring which they cannot prove comes from legal sources," the report states. "While manufacturers and retailers typically claim to buy timber only from carefully managed forests, their suppliers openly admit to using merbau from unknown sources in Papua, where powerful smuggling syndicates drive massive illegal logging. None could prove that the merbau on their shelves was legal."
The Environmental Investigation Agency based its report on undercover investigations into the suppliers of U.S.-based manufacturers and retailers. The group offers a guide on how to avoid illegal timber.
A release from the Environmental Investigation Agency follows.
U.S. Consumers Duped into Buying Timber Stolen from Papua's Precious Rainforests
Consumers of merbau hardwood flooring are being misled by leading U.S. retailers into buying timber from the forests of Indonesia's remote Papua Province, where 80 percent of logging is estimated to be illegal.
The revelations are made in a new report published today by the Environmental Investigation Agency and their Indonesian NGO partner Telepak, entitled Behind the Veneer. The report lifts the veil on the flooring industry and shows how leading retailers, including The Home Depot and Lowe's, and the flooring brands they market, including Armstrong, are making false environmental claims while selling merbau flooring which they cannot prove comes from legal sources.
EIA/Telapak gathered environmental policy information from manufacturers and retailers and conducted undercover investigations into their suppliers. They discovered that while manufacturers and retailers typically claim to buy timber only from carefully managed forests, their suppliers openly admit to using merbau from unknown sources in Papua, where powerful smuggling syndicates drive massive illegal logging. None could prove that the merbau on their shelves was legal.
The Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement chain, claims to "trace the origin of each and every wood product on our shelves" and "know item by item . . . where our wood products are harvested" (HD website). The company's wood purchasing policy also stated in 1999 that it would "eliminate wood purchases from endangered regions of the world by the end of 2002". Lowe's states it will "aggressively phase out the purchase of wood products from endangered forests." (Lowe's website)
Alexander von Bismarck, campaigns director at EIA said "Although suppliers and retailers of merbau flooring are not themselves breaking the law, they are profiting from an illegal trade and are misleading their customers into buying products made from stolen timber."
"These companies need to stop duping their customers and must take urgent steps to ensure the legal origin of their wood."
Illegal logging is rife in Papua, an area recently dubbed 'the Garden of Eden' by international scientists. In January 2005 alone, enough merbau was illegally exported to produce flooring worth an estimated $600 million at western retail prices. Despite recent enforcement efforts, illegal merbau is still leaking into the market through international smuggling syndicates. These syndicates collude with the Indonesian military and police to exploit and intimidate local communities into accepting less than $20 for a cubic meter of merbau. The same timber is worth nearly $3,500 a cubic meter when sold as flooring in the U.S. market.
Arbi Valentinus, head of forest campaign at Telapak, said, "Americans would be appalled if they knew that the wood used to make their flooring had been stolen from the poor, indigenous communities of Indonesia's Papua Province."
"Ultimately, the government should safeguard consumers by preventing retailers from selling products made from illegaly sourced timber. However, despite repeated promises to act, no law has been enacted, putting the responsibility on consumers to take action and stop buying merbau products that fuel illegal logging."
To assist consumers, EIA/Telapak have produced a guide on how to avoid illegal timber, The guide highlights the issues behind illegal logging, explains common strategies manufacturers use to mislead consumers, and provides advice on how to guarantee that the timber consumers buy is legal.
Behind the Veneer can be downloaded from EIA's website: http://www.eia-international.org/campaigns/forests/reports/