John Lewis among stores 'selling endangered hardwood'

A A A

An undercover investigation has discovered that British shops and builders' merchants are selling endangered tropical hardwood "stolen" from the forests of Papua, one of the world's remaining wildlife paradises.

Environmental investigators posed as buyers to infiltrate the timber factories that make hardwood flooring, which is replacing oak in fashionable western apartments. Retailers - including John Lewis, one of the most respected names on the high street - sell the hardwood flooring for £80 a metre with the assurance that the timber is culled from sustainable forests.

But armed with hidden cameras, the investigators working for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a non-governmental organisation backed by the EU, has discovered a depressing reality behind the "sustainable" claims.

According to the EIA, merbau, which is prized for its deep red appearance, is being illegally felled from the Indonesian province of Papua in a free-for-all that threatens the forests, wildlife and indigenous people.

The Independent has been given exclusive access to the EIA report, Behind The Veneer, published today, which alleges that logging companies make use of corruption among local police and officials to fell wood from forests.

Although there is a small supply of merbau wood in Malaysia, almost all the supply of the hardwood is on New Guinea, where illegal logging is rife.

Investigators working with an Indonesian forestry group, Telepak, tested the business claims about the sourcing of merbau flooring during a series of factory visits.

Posing as timber buyers, they visited a factory supplying the Danish firm Junckers, which supplies John Lewis and the builders' merchants Travis Perkins and Jewson.

Junckers, the fourth largest flooring company in the world, buys its merbau from Kim Teck Lee Timber Flooring (KTL) in Malaysia. KTL admitted that 80 to 90 per cent of the merbau originated in Indonesia and an employee specified that the wood came from Papua.

In a visit to another company, Kreasi, the suppliers to the world's biggest wood flooring company, Armstrong, there was an even starker admission. In an exchange caught on camera, Kreasi's marketing director Titin Siswadi admitted the company bought the wood on the open market.

The investigator asked: "So there is no way of proving it was sustainable or legal even?" Mr Siswadi replied: "No, no."

Julian Newman, the head of the forest campaign at EIA, acknowledged suppliers and retailers of merbau flooring were not themselves breaking the law but he added: "They are profiting from an illegal trade and misleading their companies into buying products made from stolen timber. These companies must take urgent steps to ensure the legal origin of their wood."

When The Independent contacted the suppliers and retailers yesterday, they announced that they had launched investigations into what had gone wrong.

John Lewis, which aims to have all its wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, said: "We have taken the precaution to withdraw the product from sale until we can investigate the claims more fully."

Travis Perkins, which has 750 outlets, said it would "follow through" its investigation with any necessary action.

Jewson announced that it would no longer sell merbau flooring products. A spokesman for the chain said: "Jewson is seeking reassurance from both Junckers and Armstrong on the legality of their other products."

Michael Sharkey, the managing director of Junckers UK, said the company believed all its merbau met current guidelines, legislation and certification. He added: "However, since serious allegations have been made against our supplier in Malaysia we shall ... investigate."

Armstrong made no comment.

Saving the tropical forests

* Consumers can play a part in ensuring the survival of tropical forests that are under immense pressure in Indonesia.

Loggers supplying the West's insatiable demand for garden furniture and flooring have already decimated the once emerald-green islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

By choosing carefully which wood they buy in Western shops, the forests of New Guinea may yet be saved.

You should not blindly accept the assurances of the shops about their hardwood. Check the product is legally sourced by looking for the mark of the Forest Stewardship Council, a tree with a tick.

Until Merbau becomes sustainable, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) recommends you do not buy it.

On a wider scale, the agency is calling for Governments, including Britain, to license responsible timber companies.

The EIA also wants Indonesia to do more to stop illegal logging, which robs it of around £3bn revenue a year. The indigenous people of Papua Province are being ripped off too - they receive less than 1 per cent of the shop price.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test