Major US flooring retailers have suspended sales of exotic wood flooring products following a Global Witness report which suggests that the timber is sourced illegally from Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The report tracked the 9000-mile journey of timber from PNG through Chinese factories to retail shelves in the U.S. Its report, Stained Trade, documents how one-third of the timber coming from PNG in recent years involved the clear-cutting of rainforests, from indigenous communities who say was stolen from them. It is a violation of rights guaranteed under PNG law.
Rick Jacobsen, Global Witness campaign leader said, “Papua New Guinea’s government has illegally handed over vast tracts of indigenous land to logging companies, who are gutting virgin rainforests at breakneck speed. Responsible companies should not be dealing in this wood.”
US hardware giant Home Depot’s supplier, Home Legend, and Nature Home, one of China’s largest flooring producers with a distributor in the US, are reviewing their supply chains and sourcing procedures. They were the few companies that acted after Global Witness shared its investigations with them. The London-based advocacy group wrote to 10 US companies selling taun flooring, the most commonly exported species from PNG. Half did not respond.
Most of PNG’s timber is shipped to China, to be turned into flooring, furniture, plywood or other products that are sold domestically or exported globally. The US is the largest buyer of wood products from China, a trade worth $15 billion per year.
The US Lacey Act prohibits the import of illegal wood. However, Global Witness found wood from PNG readily available on US markets in the form of flooring manufactured in China. By purchasing these products, consumers are supporting extensive harm to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest and may be fueling what is one of the biggest land grabs in modern history, Global Witness stated.
Home Legend said that they have “all the documentation required by the Lacey Act”, but the “information and detailed research” provided by Global Witness “has brought the logging practices of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands into question.”
Paul Pavol, a landowner-turned-activist who lost land to loggers said, “These people say they own the land now, and they do whatever they want. Police came to our community at night. People were scared that they might burn down our houses. That’s the reason we raise our voices. Something’s got to be done to save our forest.”
Pavol added that the lease his government used to give away his land to logging and oil palm interests involved fraud and forgery. He is challenging it in court, but faces an uphill battle in the face of police intimidation, legal harassment, and a better-funded adversary.
Widespread abuse of a land-leasing scheme has seen 12 per cent of PNG given away to foreign interests for up to 99 years. The government of recently re-elected Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has been promising for years to cancel illegal leases, but has failed to follow through. Clear-cutting of forests under the leases is destroying sources of food, water and medicine on which indigenous communities rely.
In February 2016, Virginia Hardwood Flooring Company Lumber Liquidators was fined US$13 million for illegal importation of hardwood flooring, much of which was manufactured in China from illegally logged timber from far eastern Russia, home of the endangered Siberian tigers and Amur leopards. It is the largest Lacey Act penalty ever, according to the US Department of Justice.
The company was also called out on CBS News 60 Minutes for selling laminate flooring from China that had higher levels of formaldehyde emissions than allowed by law.
See also: The plight of Lumber Liquidators and The plight of Lumber Liquidators – A quick update.