Walking on the Devastation of Tropical Forests

New report shows Japan’s housing industry is the same as the Tokyo Olympics - knowingly using plywood with shocking environmental and human rights impacts, yet resistant to change

Japan’s housing industry is embroiled in the same problems as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in relation to the plywood used for construction originating from forests where serious environmental damage and infractions on human rights are associated with the logging. Some of that plywood is also of doubtful legality and may be also be a result of corrupt practices in Sarawak, Malaysia.

This means that ordinary Japanese consumers are buying new housing that is implicated in rampant tropical forest destruction in south-east Asia, and specifically in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Two environmental NGOs involved with exposing the use of tropical timbers at the National Stadium site last year, including plywood sourced from notorious Sarawak logging company Shin Yang that has been implicated in illegal logging, have produced a report that exposes similar issues in housing supplied to Japanese consumers. They are calling for companies in the supply chain from Sarawak to cease using wood from Sarawak so as to save the last remaining intact natural forests there.

The NGOs say there is also a role for consumers to ensure that they do not end up with the product of forest devastation in their new housing by requesting a guarantee that wood from Sarawak has not been used in construction.

The new report, “Walking on the Devastation of Tropical Forests” released by Markets For Change and JATAN today in Tokyo, assesses whether Japan’s housing industry is making sufficient progress  in addressing the serious issues associated with the plywood used in flooring by house builders and condominium developers. The report is strongly focused on Sarawak, a state of Malaysia because it is the major supplier of plywood to Japan, which is its main customer.

“We have been examining the use of plywood originating from the last remaining intact tropical forests of Sarawak for several years, taking a strong interest in the role of housing built in Japan in creating demand for environmentally unsustainable logging that is also implicated in human rights abuses. Such plywood is often also associated with corruption and illegality,” said Ms Peg Putt, CEO of Markets For Change.

“The industry is well aware of the problems but is generally resistant to change, and our new report says that even the best performing companies are moving too slowly to make a real difference to the situation on the ground in Sarawak,” Ms Putt continued.

“What is happening in the housing industry is every bit as bad as the use of large amounts of tropical plywood in construction of the National Stadium, and it continues year after year. We think that many Japanese people will be appalled to know the impacts on tropical forests and endangered wildlife, including orangutans,” Ms Putt said.

“We therefore appeal to ordinary Japanese consumers to require better standards from the housing and condominium companies for the housing they buy. Using domestic timber instead will help save the last of these great tropical forests and also boost the Japanese economy,” Ms Putt concluded.

The groups have investigated the situation on the ground in Sarawak, held seminars for industry in Toyko and Osaka and held individual meetings with companies at which they have outlined the concerns, asked for change, and explained how procurement policies should be developed and improved.

“Sixty-five Japanese companies in the housing supply chain for plywood flooring have received our reports over the last 3 years detailing the impacts of logging for plywood to meet their demand. We have also surveyed them to find out whether they have policies and measures in place to investigate their individual supply chains and to eradicate Sarawak plywood products from their buildings,” said Mr Akira Harada, President of the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network.

“Our new report finds that these efforts have largely been in vain, because the industry as a whole is still not taking responsibility for their impacts on forests and livelihoods in Sarawak.”

“We plead with Japan’s housing industry to take effective action to get this plywood out of their buildings as a matter of urgency. It is simply not acceptable these days to say that a cheap wood supply is more important than avoiding the destruction of some of the world’s most biodiverse and rapidly disappearing tropical forests whose logging also lays waste to the ancestral forests of indigenous people. It is time to take responsibility for the impacts of Japan’s demand for plywood,” Mr Harada said.

The report ranks companies on their performance and details key issues that should be addressed:

  • the legal loophole that allows illegally logged wood to enter Japan,
  • avoiding product from forests with high value carbon stocks whose logging contributes to climate change,
  • the problems with each of the various timber certification schemes, and
  • the necessity of due diligence investigation of the plywood supply chain.

Deficiencies of Japan’s new Clean Wood Act are outlined as the groups warn that it is not sufficiently robust to address all the problems. It fails to prescribe what exactly must be investigated in undertaking due diligence assessment of supply chains, and completely fails to include actions to discover the role of corruption in allocation of logging permissions and in producing certification of legality – yet corruption is a notable problem in Sarawak, Malaysia.

For contact

Ms Peg Putt  +61 418 1227 580 Markets For Change

Mr Akira Harada  +81 90 9156 1291 JATAN