Aerial view of logging in Papua New Guinea.
Ten US companies may be selling wood flooring made with
timber sourced from illegal clearances of indigenous land in Papua New Guinea,
according to a new report from
The report shows how special agricultural permits known as SABLs were distributed to multinational agribusiness and logging firms, which used them to clear vast areas of rainforest and export the valuable timber.
2011, 12% of Papua New Guinea’s total land area had been handed out by
the government as agricultural concessions under these permits, removing this
land from the control of its customary owners.
The ensuing clearances of ancient rainforest destroyed the livelihoods of many of Papua New Guinea’s indigenous communities.
Global Witness interviewed dozens of people who lost their land to loggers through the SABLs.
One activist, Paul Pavol, told researchers of the harassment and police
intimidation he has experienced as a result of challenging the legality of the
license used to give away his land to logging and palm oil interests.
“These people say they own the land now, and they do
whatever they want,” Pavol said. “Police came to our community at night. People
were scared that they might burn down our houses.”
Papua New Guinea’s constitution guarantees citizens legal ownership over the land they have traditionally lived on. A 2013 government inquiry into the issuance of SABL permits concluded that the majority violated people’s land rights.
In August 2016, the Supreme Court struck down one
specific permit which had accounted for roughly 10% of all logs exported
under the leases. The court decision found that it had been issued without the
consent of indigenous landowners and thereby violated PNG law, rendering all
operations under it illegal.
But in the months following this verdict, at least six more
ships carrying millions of dollars of illegal timber cut under the lease left
Papua New Guinea. All these ships were bound for China, where PNG timber is
commonly fashioned into commercial products.
Global Witness’s investigation focused on flooring made from one Papua New Guinea’s most frequently exported species, taun.
It charts the
taun supply chain from Papua New Guinea to its arrival at huge timber ports on
the Yangtze River, and on to the sawmills and factories of Naxun, China’s
production hub for solid wood flooring. From there, while most taun flooring is
sold domestically, a significant quantity is also exported to the US, which
is the biggest buyer of wood products from China.
The US Lacey Act prohibits imports of illegal wood, but
there are no equivalent measures in place in China. This creates substantial
risks for US importers of wood products from China. In 2016, US flooring
firm Lumber Liquidators was forced to pay a $13 million fine after being
prosecuted under the Lacey Act for importing Chinese-made flooring linked to
illegal logging in Russia.
Stained Trade identifies ten US companies which are selling taun flooring, including Home Depot, Home Legend, and the US subsidiary of one of China’s largest flooring companies, Nature Home.
On being asked what measures they had taken to ensure the taun in their products is legal and did not involve deforestation or land rights violations in Papua New Guinea, none of the firms denied having sold flooring made with taun from SABLs.
Home Legend and Nature Flooring subsequently made
commitments to halt procurement and/or sales of taun flooring and to review
their sourcing policies and practices. Home Depot said it had already decided
to discontinue its taun product line in 2016 and had been selling what remained
of its inventory in 2017.