BANGKOK – Timber sourced through clear-cutting of rainforests through forced land grab in Papua New Guinea is being sold in the United States through intermediary companies in China, nonprofit Global Witness said in a report on Tuesday.
In the report titled “Stained Trade,” Global Witness tracked the more than 14,000-kilometer (8,699 miles) long journey of illegal timber from Papua through Chinese factories to stores in the United States.
The report documents the “extensive harm this trade is doing to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest and indigenous communities who depend on it,” said Global Witness in a statement.
“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,” said Global Witness campaign leader Rick Jacobsen.
“US 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,” added Jacobsen.
Following the report, hardware giant Home Depot’s supplier, Home Legend, had stopped selling exotic wood flooring.
Home Legend, along with Nature Home, one of China’s largest flooring sellers that has a distributor in the US, are now reviewing their supply chains and sourcing procedures, the statement said.
“Widespread abuse of a land-leasing scheme has seen 12% of PNG given away to foreign interests for up to 99 years,” the nonprofit said in the statement, adding that “clear-cutting of forests under the leases is destroying sources of food, water and medicine on which indigenous communities rely.”
The nonprofit also interviewed dozens of people who had lost their land to loggers, including Paul Pavol, a landowner-turned-activist, who says the government falsified document to grab his land.
“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 report quotes Pavol as saying.
The government of Papuan Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has been promising for years to cancel illegal leases, but has failed to follow through with it, according to the nonprofit.
The US, which is the largest buyer of wood products from China – a trade worth $15 billion a year –, has strict laws against illegal timber.
However, Global Witness warned a lack of similar laws in China means illegal wood can pass through this country to Europe or the US.