Hardware giant Home Depot’s supplier, Home Legend, has halted sales of exotic wood flooring linked to devastating and often illegal logging in the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) following a Global Witness investigation described in a report published today. Home Legend, along with Nature Home, one of China’s largest flooring sellers with a distributor in the U.S., are reviewing their supply chains and sourcing procedures.(1)
For the first time, Global Witness has tracked the 9000-mile journey of timber from PNG through Chinese factories to retail shelves in the U.S. Its report, Stained Trade, documents the extensive harm this trade is doing to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest and the indigenous communities who depend on it.
Stained Trade shows how a third of the timber coming from PNG in recent years involved the clear-cutting of rainforests on land communities say was stolen from them, in violation of rights guaranteed under PNG law.
U.S. consumers may be unwittingly fuelling what is one of the biggest land grabs in modern history. 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 U.S. is the largest buyer of wood products from China, a trade worth $15 billion per year.
The U.S. Lacey Act bans the import of illegal wood. However, Global Witness found wood from PNG readily available on U.S. markets in the form of flooring manufactured in China. Home Depot and Home Legend stated that they took the necessary steps to comply with the Lacey Act for the wood from PNG that they were selling.
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.”
Jacobsen added: “Tens of thousands of people have been affected. Many who tried to speak out have been threatened, arrested or beaten up by police on the payroll of logging companies. Most of the timber goes to China, where it’s turned into everyday items. U.S. companies need to take steps to ensure wood products they buy from China are not linked to the abuses of the kind we’re seeing in Papua New Guinea. ”
Global Witness interviewed dozens of people who have lost their land to loggers. They include Paul Pavol, a landowner-turned-activist who won an international award for environmental and human rights activism last year for his struggle to protect his forests from one of the world’s largest logging companies.(2)
Pavol says 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 vastly better-funded adversary.
Widespread abuse of a land-leasing scheme has seen 12% 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.
Paul Pavol 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.”
The U.S. and Europe have laws in place prohibiting imports of illegal wood. The lack of equivalent measures in China creates risks for American and European importers of wood products made in China, as demonstrated by a recent criminal case involving U.S. flooring giant Lumber Liquidators. Last year the company agreed to pay US$13 million in penalties for importing Chinese-made flooring linked to illegal logging in Russia, in violation of the Lacey Act.
Global Witness identified a number of U.S. companies selling flooring potentially made from PNG wood. Of the ten it wrote to, half did not respond, while Home Legend and a U.S. subsidiary of leading Chinese flooring brand Nature Home said they were reviewing their sourcing practices and would revise their policies as needed. Nature stopped short of dropping the flooring, but said it would put a ‘pause on new procurement’ for the U.S. market while it reviewed its sourcing procedures.(3)
Jacobsen said: “We welcome the decision taken by Home Legend to stop selling risky wood from Papua New Guinea and willingness to work with civil society to improve their sourcing practices. Unfortunately not all companies were responsive – this should raise serious questions for U.S. law enforcement and consumers alike about these companies’ compliance with the Lacey Act and complicity in fuelling the theft of indigenous land and deforestation in Papua New Guinea.”
Notes to editor:
- In April 2017, Home Depot’s supplier Home Legend stopped selling hardwood flooring containing wood from PNG after Global Witness shared the findings of its investigations. In late March 2017, Global Witness sent a letter to ten U.S. companies selling taun flooring (taun is PNG’s most commonly exported species) summarizing the findings of our research related to PNG. Home Legend replied on April 10th stating that it had decided to discontinue its taun flooring products effective that day, and that it had “received agreement from Home Depot to discontinue this sku [stock keeping unit] and pull all the samples from the stores starting next week.” 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.” The product was marked “discontinued” on The Home Depot’s website soon after. The discontinued product can be found at the following website (accessed 25 July 2017). The Home Depot later stated that it had already decided to discontinue its taun flooring product in 2016 and had been selling out the last of its inventory in 2017, but that the product was no longer available. Home Depot denies making changes to its sales or policies as a result of the information provided by Global Witness. Further details about the companies’ responses can be found in the new report Stained Trade.
- Paul Pavol was awarded the 2016 Alexander Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism.
- Further details about the ten companies’ responses can be found in the new report Stained Trade.