Monday, 13 October 2008

UK store withdraws tropical rainforest flooring

For immediate release
LONDON: Monday October 13th 2008

UK store withdraws tropical rainforest flooring

RETAILER Next has withdrawn some of its hardwood flooring from sale following concerns it was made from rainforest timber from an illegal logging hotspot.

The store was one of a number of UK retailers which made bold ‘green’ claims about its flooring – but failed to provide evidence of its legality, according to a survey by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

The research was carried out by London-based campaign group EIA into merbau, a popular wood prized for its dark red colour and durability. It concluded that customers were unwittingly decking out their homes with highly suspect rainforest timber.

Found only in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia, merbau (Instia spp.) – has been systematically looted from the forests of Papua, Indonesia, to feed international demand for flooring, decking, doors and furniture.

The probe follows a 2006 EIA investigation into leading UK merbau brands, the aftermath of which saw some retailers, including B&Q stop selling the wood. But the 2008 survey shows many UK companies continuing to turn a blind eye to the problem.

Of 16 retailers surveyed this year, 12 made a series of bold ‘green’ assurances about the wood’s origins but when questioned further, none, bar one, managed to produce satisfactory evidence that the timber had come from a legal forest source.

And in many cases, firms were found to be providing misleading and extraordinary information to consumers – with Next repeatedly insisting to investigators posing as customers that the tropical merbau was, in fact, from ‘sustainable forests’ in Sweden and Siberia.

Following a report last night (Sunday) on BBC Radio Five Live’s Donal McIntyre show into the research, Next announced it was withdrawing the product from sale on its internet homeware site, pending further investigations.

A Next spokesperson said: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. On initial investigation we believed that we had significant documentation to support the origin of the product.

“However, it has now been brought to our attention that there is a missing link in some of the documentation. Until this has been rectified, we can confirm that we will be taking this product off the web-site with immediate effect."

Another company produced a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificate relating to a factory in China– which, on further investigation, told EIA it had never produced FSC merbau.

It is not currently an offence in the UK to trade in imported timber known to have been cut illegally in its country of origin and the merbau trade epitomises the problem of illegal logging and the limitations of government actions to tackle it.

In the absence of any UK law or EU law, it is left to the timber industry to self-regulate and ensure the legality of its wood supplies.

EIA’s Campaign Director Julian Newman said he was pleased with the swift Next response but added it highlighted the problems many consumers faced when trying to shop ethically.

“The findings clearly show that the voluntary approach to excluding illegally-logged timber from the UK market is insufficient.

“Instead, the UK Government needs to put in place measures to outlaw the sale of wood products and timber derived from illegal logging.

“These forests form part of the last remaining tracts of intact rainforests in the Asia Pacific region, provide essential livelihoods for local communities and support a wealth of biodiversity.”

Recent UK sales of wooden flooring from tropical countries are booming.
The UK is now the largest importer of Chinese-made flooring in the EU, and imported three million square metres in the first six months of 2008 – a 58 per cent increase compared with 2007.

Campaigners and lobbyists have long argued that only the risk of prosecution would make wholesalers and retailers pay attention to the origin of wood they supply, and discourage traders from passing on dubious certification to consumers.

A copy of the full briefing is available:
For more information, stills & footage -
Stuart Coles, EIA Press Office
+ 44 (0) 207 354 7969
Mobile +44 (0) 7988 543 221
* Tomorrow (Tuesday 14th) details of a plan to protect rainforests proposed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown & Cool Earth are due to be announced.
* In the UK, on October 17th, there will be a second reading in Parliament of a Private Member’s Bill, the Illegally-Logged Timber Bill.The Bill is cross-party sponsored by MPs: Barry Gardiner, Margaret Beckett, Elliot Morley, Eric Joyce, Andrew Dismore, Chris Huhne, Alun Michael, Joan Walley, Graham Stuart, James Paice, Ian Cawsey and John Mann.
* The US introduced landmark legislation in May this year to outlaw the import or sale of illegally-logged timber. No such policy has yet emerged in the EU.
ENDS The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is the world's leading organisation dedicated to exposing crimes against wildlife and the environment.