Monday, July 23, 2007

Corruption Stains Timber Trade

While western nations are no longer experiencing deforestation, I have wondered whether deforestation in other countries was caused by their consumption. Looks like to some extent it is.

"Western consumers are leaving a violent ecological footprint in Burma and other countries," said an American environmental activist who frequently travels to Burma and goes by the pen name Zao Noam to preserve access to the authoritarian country. "Predominantly, the Burmese timber winds up as patio furniture for Americans. Without their demand, there wouldn't be a timber trade."

About 2,500 miles to the northeast, Chinese and Russian crews hacked into the virgin forests of the Russian Far East and Siberia, hauling away 250-year-old Korean pines in often-illegal deals, according to trading companies and environmentalists. In the highlands of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Africa and in the forests of the Amazon, loggers working beyond the bounds of the law have sent a ceaseless flow of timber to China.

Mountains of logs, many of them harvested in excess of legal limits aimed at preserving forests, are streaming toward Chinese factories where workers churn out such products as furniture and floorboards. These wares are shipped from China to major retailers such as Ikea, Home Depot, Lowe's and many others. They land in homes and offices in the United States and Europe, bought by shoppers with little inkling of the wood's origins or the environmental costs of chopping it down.

The buzzing sawmills and clattering furniture plants in China explain why the pace of logging in Papua New Guinea is four times faster than legally permitted, according to Forest Trends. It explains why ships ferry logs to China from the African nation of Gabon, where 70 percent of logging is illegal, according to the World Bank. It explains why Chinese traders armed with cash line the Russian border, overwhelming the regulators charged with preserving trees.
It appears that China has become the world's illicit lumber launderer. What does it mean for these forests and these countries?
At the current pace of cutting, natural forests in Indonesia and Burma -- which send more than half their exported logs to China -- will be exhausted within a decade, according to research by Forest Trends, a consortium of industry and conservation groups. Forests in Papua New Guinea will be consumed in as little as 13 years, and those in the Russian Far East within two decades.

In the world's poorest countries, illegal logging on public lands annually costs governments $10 billion in lost assets and revenues, a figure more than six times the aid these nations receive to help protect forests, a World Bank study found last year.
What can be done about this?

Putting pressure on a leading retailer who can improve the situation usually works. And who would that be in this case?
"Ikea will provide some guidance, such as a list of endangered species we can't use, but they never send people to supervise the purchasing," said a factory sales manager who spoke on condition she be identified by only her family name, Wu. "Basically, they just let us pick what wood we want."

China is Ikea's largest supplier of solid wood furniture, according to the company. In 2006, about 100 Chinese factories manufactured about one-fourth of the company's global stock. Russia is Ikea's largest source of wood, providing one-fifth of its worldwide supply. Ikea executives said they are confident this wood is legal, because the company dispatches auditors and professional foresters to factories and traces wood to logging sites.

But Ikea has only two foresters in China and three in Russia, the company said. It annually inspects logging sites that produce about 30 percent of the wood imported by its Chinese factories, more commonly relying on paperwork produced by logging companies and factories.

"Falsification of documents is rampant," acknowledged Sofie Beckham, Ikea's forestry coordinator. "There's always somebody who wants to break the rules."

Sending more people to inspect logging sites would make Ikea's products more expensive.
Sound like if there is enough pressure put on IKEA, they could make sure that the lumber they get is legitimate and with would have a significant impact on decreasing the amount of illegal lumber.

Where could they get the money to pay for more inspectors? This would be a good cause for Ingvar Kamprad's (the founder of IKEA) foundation, the Stichting Ingka Foundation. It has a net worth of at least $36 billion, making it the largest foundation in the world, even larger than Bill Gates'.

Why then have you never heard of it before? Because unfortunately, the foundation is more of a tax shelter than a non-profit. But, if he ever wanted to do something good with his money this would be an excellent way to go.

via The Washington Post

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