28 March 2019

Toxic timber trade not so 'eco-friendly'

Environmental agency reports on illicit destruction of Africa's forests and contamination of the US timber Market.

A new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) entitled ‘Toxic Trade: Forest Crime in Gabon and the Republic of Congo and the Contamination of the US Market’ has documented how illegally extracted African timber emerges as ‘eco-friendly’-marketed products in America, deceiving unsuspecting US consumers.

Four-year investigation

During a four-year undercover investigation, EIA uncovered the inner workings of one of Africa’s most influential timber conglomerates, the ‘Dejia Group,’ controlled by Chinese mogul Xu Gong De. The report exposes a multitude of crimes committed in the forests of the Congo Basin, and the network of corrupt officials who enable illegalities and criminal activity. According to EIA findings, the Dejia Group, which controls over 1.5 million hectares of forest in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, obtained vast areas of forest through corrupt means; massively overharvested concessions; exported US $80 million worth of logs in breach of national law over a four year period; and evaded several millions of dollars in taxes each year. The group relies on well-placed political connections. Lisa Handy, director of EIA’s Forest Campaign, said ‘Gabon recently has begun to crack down on illegal actors, but much remains to be done. We urge the Republic of Congo to also hold these companies accountable; and both countries to tackle the endemic corruption that undermines domestic industry development and enables rampant destruction of their forests.’

‘Everyone needs to be greased’

At least one client of the Dejia Group in the US, Evergreen Hardwood Inc., has helped insert the illegal timber into the US supply chain. Evergreen representative Mr. Jim Green explained to EIA undercover investigators ‘everyone needs to be greased to make things work. I don’t care, I understand that. That’s how it works. I do that. I do that from here.’ Mr Green also said, ‘I’m not worried that you’re stealing from a national park. I don’t care. I just need to have documentation in case somebody accuses me and wants to look.’ Evergreen has imported thousands of tons of Dejia Group’s timber products for more than 10 years, reselling to major US manufacturers. Ms Handy said, ‘the Dejia-Evergreen case demonstrates the need for US authorities to routinely check due diligence systems, and to vigorously enforce the Lacey Act. Otherwise, illegal timber will continue to flow into the US, and American consumers will remain unwitting supporters of devastating forest crime.’

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