US, Chinese companies linked to PNG land theft, deforestation, says report


Landowner-turned activist Paul Pavol talks about the widespread land theft and deforestation occurring in Papua New Guinea at the hands of foreign companies. Video: Global Witness.

Major hardware companies in the US and China have been forced to halt sales of exotic wood flooring and review supply chains after a report has revealed potential links to the devastating and illegal logging trade in Papua New Guinea.

This follows a three-year investigation by international NGO Global Witness into the land theft and deforestation at the heart of Papua New Guinea’s controversial land leases.

Their new report, ‘Stained Trade’, reveals how a third of the country’s timber has been illegally obtained by clear-cutting rainforests on land owned by local communities.

US hardware giant Home Depot and its supplier, Home Legend, along with China’s largest flooring seller, Nature Home, are allegedly involved in this trade worth US$15 billion (NZD$20 billion) a year.

Home Depot and Home Legend have stated they have taken all necessary steps and complied with the Lacey Act, a US law which bans the import of illegal wood, but Global Witness claims wood from Papua New Guinea is readily available on US markets in the form of flooring manufactured in China.

“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. Responsible logging companies should not be dealing in this wood,” Rick Jacobsen of Global Witness said.

“Tens of thousands of people have been affected. Many who tried to speak out have been threatened, arrested or beaten up by police on the payroll of logging companies.”

Land given away
One of those people is landowner-turned-activist Paul Pavol.

Pavol believes the lease the government used to “give away” his land to logging and palm oil interests involved fraud and forgery.

Despite challenging the move in court, he faces an uphill battle in the face of police intimidation, legal harassment, and a better-funded opponent, Global Witness stated.

“These people say they own the land now, and they do whatever they want. Police came to our community at night. People were scared that they might burn down our houses. That’s the reason we raise our voices. Something’s got to be done to save our forest,” Pavol said.

Global Witness has also called out recently re-elected prime minister, Peter O’Neill, for his involvement in such issues.

“Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has been promising for years to cancel illegal leases, but has failed to follow through. Clear-cutting of forests under the leases is destroying sources of food, water and medicine on which indigenous communities rely.”

Apparent widespread abuse of the land leasing scheme – Special Agriculture and Business Leases – has seen 12 per cent of Papua New Guinea given away to foreign interests for up to 99 years, Global Witness said.

End complicity calls
The NGO has therefore called on US companies selling flooring potentially made from Papua New Guinea’s wood to end their complicity in fueling the theft of indigenous land and deforestation.

“US companies need to take steps to ensure wood products they buy from China are not linked to the abuses of the kind we’re seeing in Papua New Guinea,” Jacobsen said.

According to Global Witness, only half of the ten companies contacted about their potential involvement have responded.

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