Correction to This Article
An April 1 Page One article about illicit logging in Asia reported that Armstrong Floor Products of Pennsylvania sells flooring made from tropical merbau wood with a label typically saying it is made in the United States and without disclosing that the wood came from Southeast Asia. Armstrong's merbau flooring is actually made in Indonesia and labeled as such, and the company says it has taken steps to ensure the wood is harvested legally. Additionally, the article should have included a statement from Armstrong that 95.1 percent of the wood it uses in its products is grown in the United States and Canada.
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Corruption Stains Timber Trade

A railway in northeastern China receives timber from the Russian Far East, where the World Bank says half of all logging is illegal. Ikea products are made here and shipped to the U.S.
A railway in northeastern China receives timber from the Russian Far East, where the World Bank says half of all logging is illegal. Ikea products are made here and shipped to the U.S. (By Peter S. Goodman -- The Washington Post)

This story is the result of a year-long Washington Post investigation involving reporting in China, Russia, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, Singapore and the United States. The Post interviewed government officers, diplomats, logging companies, traders, retailers, environmental scientists and advocates. Given the risks of discussing illegal activity, The Post sometimes granted anonymity to its informants -- particularly in Burma, where the agents who brokered a logging deal with military commanders displayed their bribe ledgers on the condition they not be named.

From Asian Forests to Ikea Showrooms

The industry that connects forests in Asia with living rooms in the United States via the sawmills of China is a quintessential product of globalization. As transportation links expand and technology erodes distance, multinational manufacturing operations can draw supplies from almost anywhere and ship goods everywhere.

No company better symbolizes this reality than Ikea, the Swedish home-furnishings giant. Ikea cultivates a green image, filling its cavernous stores -- including three in the Baltimore-Washington corridor -- with signs asserting that its products are made in ways that minimize environmental harm.

But in Suifenhe, a wood-processing hub in northeastern China, workers at Yixin Wood Industry Corp. fashion 100,000 pine dining sets a year for Ikea using timber from the neighboring Russian Far East, where the World Bank says half of all logging is illegal.

"Ikea will provide some guidance, such as a list of endangered species we can't use, but they never send people to supervise the purchasing," said a factory sales manager who spoke on condition she be identified by only her family name, Wu. "Basically, they just let us pick what wood we want."

China is Ikea's largest supplier of solid wood furniture, according to the company. In 2006, about 100 Chinese factories manufactured about one-fourth of the company's global stock. Russia is Ikea's largest source of wood, providing one-fifth of its worldwide supply. Ikea executives said they are confident this wood is legal, because the company dispatches auditors and professional foresters to factories and traces wood to logging sites.

But Ikea has only two foresters in China and three in Russia, the company said. It annually inspects logging sites that produce about 30 percent of the wood imported by its Chinese factories, more commonly relying on paperwork produced by logging companies and factories.

"Falsification of documents is rampant," acknowledged Sofie Beckham, Ikea's forestry coordinator. "There's always somebody who wants to break the rules."

Sending more people to inspect logging sites would make Ikea's products more expensive.

"It's about cost," said Ikea's global manager for social and environmental affairs, Thomas Bergmark. "It would take enormous resources if we trace back each and every wood supply chain. We can never guarantee that each and every log is from the right source."

Two years ago, Ikea set a goal that by 2009, at least 30 percent of the wood for its products will be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. But now, the company says, only 4 percent of the wood used to make its wares in China meets that grade.

The Ecosystem Effect

China's voracious appetite for foreign timber is the direct result of its campaign to protect its own forests, even as its demand for wood has exploded.

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