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International environmental organizations call on Japan to stop buying illegal timber

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A group of 16 environmental organizations are today calling on Japan to put in place stronger measures to stop the trade in illegal timber. Writing in an open letter to two Japanese trade associations, the group cites evidence that Japanese companies are importing timber from Samling Global, a company involved in illegal logging in Malaysian Borneo.

According to evidence compiled by an independent investigator in 2009 and 2010, Japan’s largest supplier of timber, the Malaysia-based multinational Samling Global, was involved with systematic illegal logging in and outside of its concessions in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. The research found that the company has been logging undersized and protected trees; illegally in a National Park; without legally-required Environmental Impact Assessments; and in excess of limits. The Malaysian Auditor-General also previously found evidence of illegalities in Samling’s forests.

The evidence compiled was recorded in a report for the Ethical Council of Norway’s Pension Fund Global and led to the Council’s divestment from Samling in 2010. However, Japanese sourcing practices have yet to change. The open letter, addressed to Japan’s major wood trade associations, criticizes the recognition by the Japanese government of logs ‘legally verified’ from these areas by Sarawak government procedures. The letter calls upon Japanese companies “to cease sourcing from Samling Global until the company is able to independently demonstrate legal compliance in its concessions,” and to work with the Japanese government to develop stronger measures against trade in illegal timber.

“Japanese companies are the largest buyers of Samling’s Sarawak logs and plywood,” said Andrea Johnson, a non-profit expert in illegal logging at the Environmental Investigation Agency. “They may not be aware of the activities occurring ‘behind’ the stamp of legality, which is why we sent a letter to the representative industry organizations.” Johnson noted that Japan currently lags behind the U.S., Europe and soon Australia with no law or effective system to prevent illegal wood products from entering into the country.

“Samling’s Sarawak timber is not the only risky wood entering Japan’s markets,” added Junichi Mishiba of Friends of the Earth Japan, highlighting that the country imports substantially from natural forests in Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia among others. “We urge Japan’s industry and government to close the doors to illegal wood and support ethical forest management. Japanese consumers don’t want to be party to forest crime.”

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Notes to editors:

Organizations signing the open letter: Environmental Investigation Agency (US and UK), Global Witness (UK), Humane Society International (Australia), Rainforest Action Network (US and Japan), Rainforest Foundation Norway, Climate Justice Programme (Australia), Forests for the World (Denmark), Friends of the Earth (US), Friends of the Earth (Japan), Japan Tropical Forest Action Network, The Sloth Club (Japan), HUTAN Group (Japan), Sarawak Campaign Committee (Japan), Greenpeace Japan.

Associations to whom the letter was sent: Japan Lumber Importers’ Association (JLIA), Japan Federation of Wood-Industry Associations, Japan Plywood Manufacturers’ Association, Japan Plywood Wholesalers Association, Japan Laminated Wood Products Association, Japan Office and Institutional Furniture Association, Japan Federation of Fancy Veneer and Plywood Manufacturers Association (ZENTENREN), International Development Association of the Furniture Industry of Japan.

According to the Earthsight report on which the Norwegian Pension Fund Ethical Council’s recommendation was based, field research and satellite image analysis in 2009 and 2010 also found that Samling’s operations in the Baram River basin included logging outside concession boundaries and in prohibited steep slope and riverine buffer areas within concessions.

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 of illegal logging.

For more information:

Chatham House, Illegal Logging and Related Trade: Indicators of the Global Response, 2010.
http://www.illegal-logging.info/uploads/CHillegalloggingpaperwebready1.pdf

Norwegian Pension Fund Ethical Council recommendation, 22nd Feb 2010, at
http://www.regjeringen.no/pages/13897161/Samling.pdf

Letter to Japanese Timber Associations (Japanese and English)

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