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16 December 2011

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Japan

Environmental groups to Japan: stop importing illegally logged timber

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."

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Assessing illegal logging

Chatham House is assessing the scale and effectiveness of the response to illegal logging and the related trade around the world. Full details of this work, including analysis and data, will be available online soon.