A coalition of environmental NGOs have called upon Japan to adopt stronger measures to block illicit timber imports, alleging that Japanese companies are buying illegally logged wood from Samling Global, a Malaysian logging company.
In a open letter addressed to two Japanese trade associations, the group urges Japan “to close the doors to illegal wood and support ethical forest management.”
“Japanese consumers don’t want to be party to forest crime,” the letter states.
The group cites evidence from an independent investigation which found Samling had engaged in illegal logging in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.
“Field research and satellite image analysis conducted by Earthsight Investigations in 2009 in the Baram River basin in Miri division found that Samling’s operations were illegally logging in a National Park, outside concession boundaries and in prohibited steep slope and riverine buffer areas within concessions; logging without Environmental Impact Assessments; clearing forest in excess of limits, and logging undersize and protected trees,” the letter states. “In 2008 the Malaysian Auditor-General also found evidence of illegalities in Samling concessions in Sarawak. This evidence was sufficient for Ethical Council of the Norwegian government’s Pension Fund Global to divest from the company, and your attention is directed to the findings of that report.”
The letter says that Japan has fallen behind the U.S. and Europe on laws prohibiting imports of illegally logged timber.
The coalition includes the Environmental Investigation Agency (US & UK), the Climate Justice Programme (Australia), Forests of the World (Denmark), Friends of the Earth US, Global Witness (UK), the Humane Society International (Australia), the Rainforest Action Network (US and Japan), Rainforest Foundation Norway, Friends of the Earth Japan, Greenpeace Japan, the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network, The Sloth Club (Japan), HUTAN Group (Japan), and the Sarawak Campaign Committee (Japan).
The text of the letter:
We, the undersigned organizations, are concerned about the role that Japanese companies are playing
in the consumption of illegal and unsustainable wood from Malaysia’s forests. We would like to bring
your attention to recent evidence demonstrating pervasive illegal logging practices in the supply chain of
Samling Global, a major supplier of timber to Japanese companies.
Samling Global is the largest timber company in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, where it controls logging
concessions that cover almost two million hectares. Field research and satellite image analysis
conducted by Earthsight Investigations in 2009 in the Baram River basin in Miri division found that
Samling’s operations were illegally logging in a National Park, outside concession boundaries and in
prohibited steep slope and riverine buffer areas within concessions; logging without Environmental
Impact Assessments; clearing forest in excess of limits, and logging undersize and protected trees. In
2008 the Malaysian Auditor-General also found evidence of illegalities in Samling concessions in
Sarawak. This evidence was sufficient for Ethical Council of the Norwegian government’s Pension Fund
Global to divest from the company, and your attention is directed to the findings of that report.
Despite the apparently systematic nature of the illegal activity in the concessions where research was
conducted, the logs that leave these forests are typically “legalized” by Sarawak government
procedures, and recognized by the Japanese government as “legality verified” under systems developed
between the two countries.
Japanese companies are the largest buyers of Samling’s Sarawak logs and plywood, including from the
two facilities – Samling Plywood (Miri) and Samling Plywood (Baramas) – located in the river basin
where illegal logging practices were documented. Additional Earthsight field research in December 2010
confirmed that all timber used by the Samling Plywood Baramas mill was Malaysian tropical hardwoods,
and almost all came from the concessions upstream where illegalities have been identified. Japanese
companies may not be aware of the activities occurring “behind” the stamp of legality. We therefore
encourage you to read the enclosed summary of investigative findings as well as the full report on
Samling produced by the Norwegian Ethical Council. While these findings are from 2009 and 2010, there
is no clear indication that Samling’s practices have changed since then.
As a country, Japan has fallen behind its market equals. Both the U.S. and Europe have recently
introduced laws prohibiting trade in illegally-sourced timber and wood products, and Australia is now
following suit. Japan currently lags behind its fellow G-8 nations in fulfilling its commitment – made over
seven years ago at the Gleneagles summit – to act “in our own countries” to take measures to prevent
trade in illegal wood. In a recent independent assessment by the think-tank Chatham House, Japan was
ranked last of five consumer countries in its efforts to tackle the problem. Neither the content nor
implementation of Japan’s public procurement policy for wood products is strong enough to prevent
consumption of illegally-sourced wood products.
We call upon the members companies of your Associations to cease sourcing from Samling Global until
the company is able to independently demonstrate legal compliance in its concessions. We also call
upon the member companies of the Associations to work with the Japanese government to develop and
pass stronger measures to close Japan’s doors to illegal timber, through regulatory policy that prohibits
commerce in illegally sourced wood and promotes strong due diligence practices.
(12/12/2011) A coalition of Malaysian and international NGOs are calling for the arrest of Sarawak chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud and 14 family members for alleged abused of power, corruption, and money laundering, reports the Bruno Manser Fund, a group that has signed the letter urging action.
(04/05/2011) The tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month is likely to boost wood imports into the recovering nation, adding increased pressure on the already imperiled rainforests of Southeast Asia. Even before the disaster, Japan was the world’s number one importer of wood chips and plywood and the second largest importer of logs. Japan usually imports plywood from China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, however the forests of Southeast Asia are facing tremendous loss due to logging and clearing for industrial-scale agriculture, such as palm oil.