Laundering Illegal Timber: How Tropical Wood Stolen Through Land Grab Makes its Way to the Furniture Store
In 2013, with 3.1 million cubic meters of tropical wood exported, primarily to China, Papua New Guinea (PNG) became in recent years the world’s largest exporter of tropical wood, surpassing Malaysia, which had held the top spot for the past decades.
PNG reached the coveted first place after expanding the exploitation of its forest resources through a legal mechanism called Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs). According to a government Commission of Inquiry, most SABLs lack the free, prior, and informed consent of the local people, and involve fraud, misconduct, and incompetence. In September 2013, PNG´s Prime Minister stated that the scheme “revealed a shocking trend of corruption and mismanagement in all stages in the process,” and later announced that all these deals should be considered illegal and be canceled. Yet, to date, the government has not taken any decisive action to cancel deceptive land deals, stop illegal logging, or return land to rightful owners.
SABLs are just the tip of the iceberg. The 5.5 million hectares leased under SABLs in recent years come in addition to 10 million hectares already allocated by the government as logging concessions. This means that more than one third of the country’s 46 million hectares is now in the hands of foreign logging firms, mostly from Malaysia.