PAPUA NEW GUINEA - U.S. lumber retailers may be unwittingly selling lumber linked to illegal logging in the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea.
A two-year investigation by Global Witness, an international non-profit dedicated to exposing environmental harm, tracked the 9,000-mile journey of illegally-harvested timber from Papua New Guinea to Chinese factories, and ultimately to retail shelves in the United States.
“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," said Global Witness campaign leader Rick Jacobsen in a statement.
The majority of timber produced in the South Pacific nation is shipped to China and turned into flooring, furniture, and plywood, among other products, though smaller amounts of Papua New Guinea timber are sent to countries like India, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, the investigation found.
Despite the U.S. ban on imports of illegal wood under the Lacey Act, China, who doesn't employ a ban, sells $15 billion worth of wood products into the U.S. each year.
The investigation found that certain American and Chinese companies were selling illegal wood without taking the necessary steps to ensure it was legal. Global Witness sent a letter to Home Legend, one of Home Depot's primary wood suppliers, who it found to be selling the illegally-harvested Papua New Guinea lumber. Home Legend decided to stop selling flooring products effective immediately and said it would review its sourcing policies.
Papua New Guinea is home to world's third largest tropical rainforest and is considered one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The Papua New Guinea government has given 12 percent of its land - over eight million acres - to foreign interests in a rent-free, land-leasing scheme for up to 99 years. The government collects royalties on exported logs.