A report by international NGO Global Witness has prompted US retailers to halt the sale of wood flooring linked to illegal logging in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The three-year investigation and subsequent report, Stained Trade, found that timbers sourced through forced land grabs and clear-cutting of rainforests were being sold in the US through intermediary companies in China.
The report traced the 15,000km supply chain from PNG’s rainforests to China and on to western markets, involving 10 US retailers and dozens of companies throughout the wood flooring supply chain.
Home Legend, a supplier to the US hardware group Home Depot said it had suspended sales of taun flooring which is made from wood sourced from the South Pacific nation and was reviewing its sourcing practices and would revise its policies as needed.
Nature Floorings, a US subsidiary of China’s Nature Home said it was putting a “pause on procurement” for the US market while it reviewed its sourcing procedures.
Japan’s Sojitz Corporation announced it had also suspended wood purchases from PNG.
Rick Jacobsen, Global Witness campaigner, said many manufacturers were sourcing wood from PNG and that companies had a responsibility to make sure their timber was responsibly sourced.
“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,” he said.
“Responsible companies should not be dealing in this wood.”
PNG is one the world’s largest exporters of tropical wood following a lease of 5m hectares—12% of its landmass—to logging and palm oil interests between 2003 and 2011.
However, a 2012 government probe into the Special Agricultural and Business Lease system found 90% of the leases were obtained illegally from landowners.
“Widespread abuse of a land-leasing scheme has seen 12% of PNG given away to foreign interests for up to 99 years,” the report said.
The report added that the US, which is the largest buyer of wood products from China—a trade worth $15bn a year—has strict laws against buying illegal timber but a lack of similar laws in China meant illegal wood could pass through the country and into the US and Europe.
“US consumers may be unwittingly fuelling what is one of the biggest land grabs in the modern history,” it said.
US authorities recently stepped up investigations into alleged breaches of timber export controls. Last year, US group Lumber Liquidators agreed to pay £13m in penalties for importing Chinese-made flooring linked to illegal logging in Russia.
In 2012, Nashville instrument maker Gibson Guitar agreed a deal to settle a US Department of Justice probe into claims it illegally bought imported wood from Madagascar and rosewood and ebony from India.