06 Mar 1998
The Ministry of Defence has bought 7,230 cubic feet of Brazilian mahogany from a UK supplier called Parker Kislingbury. They bought the mahogany from the Brazilian logging company Juary, which has been heavily involved in illegal logging in the Amazon. The mahogany is being used to refurbish Royal Navy ships. The purchase is a clear breach of MoD policy, which states that tropical timber should come from "reputable suppliers and sustainable sources". It also undermines the Department of Environment claim to have advised other Government Departments to use timber from sustainable sources, as well as government attempts to go green in procuring goods and services.
The MoD first tried to suppress news of the deal, claiming to FOE that it was commercially confidential. However, it was forced to publish details after the threat of legal action and the tabling of Parliamentary Questions. The MoD claims to have a very clear and pro-active stance on this sensitive issue. Astonishingly, however, the MoD admits that this amounts to self-certification by the companies supplying the timber, who simply state that the wood comes from sustainable sources.
Over 300 groups representing the indigenous peoples of the Amazon have written to Defence Secretary George Robertson, demanding that the MoD stop buying from Juary at once. A major new FOE report Plunder for Profit exposes how massive illegal logging continues in Brazil, and reveals that between 10 and 12 trucks a day have been seen moving from the Kayapo indigenous reserve in Parà State to the town of Redenção, where Juary is based.
Last year the UK Government pressed for the trade in Brazilian mahogany to be tightly
regulated under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The logging of mahogany is unsustainable and is a major factor in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The UK is the second largest importer of Brazilian mahogany in the world.
The news of the MoD purchase comes shortly after the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology published previously suppressed deforestation figures, showing that forest loss doubled between 1994 and 1995. The figures for 1995 and 1996 together meant forest loss across an area the size of Belgium.
FOE has also learnt that the Northern Ireland Office has also made recent mahogany purchases.
Sarah Tyack, tropical rainforest campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said
"The disgraceful story of the MOD's secret mahogany deal shows that Government attempts to purchase green goods and services is a shambles. The Environment Ministry issues guidelines full of green waffle about buying from sustainable sources. But they don't bother to monitor or enforce their own policy.The Ministry of Defence couldn't care less about the policy, and carries on getting supplies from one of the most notorious loggers in Brazil.
The Amazon forests are being destroyed faster than ever - and by buying Brazilian mahogany the Government is partly to blame. This deal must be shelved. Every Government Department must agree to end any buying of wood from dubious sources. The policy must be tightly monitored and enforced. The indigenous people of the Amazon - and everyone who cares about the future of our rainforests and about the problem of global warming, deserve honesty and firm action from Government, not shabby evasions, feeble gestures and attempted cover-ups.
Notes to Editors
 The MoD admitted in answer to a PQ [15/1/97] that it was buying Brazilian mahogany "for use in Royal Navy ships, primarily for refurbishment or repair work. It continued: "It is the Ministry's policy that purchases of tropical timber, including mahogany,are made from reputable suppliers who are required to confirm that supplies are from sustainable sources". When FOE originally wrote to the MoD regarding its purchase, the Ministry refused to answer claiming it was "commercially confidential".
Plunder for Profit was written by Richard Herring and Stuart Tanner, two investigative journalists. The report is the result of a nine month on-the-ground investigation which highlights the continuing illegality of the mahogany trade between the UK and Brazil and its devastating impact on the forest and its people. Plunder for Profit, £7.99, is available from Friends of the Earth, 56-58 Alma St, Luton LU1. Tel: 01582 482297.
Friends of the Earth
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Tel: 020 7490 1555
Fax: 020 7490 0881