We've been following an interesting story involving retail giant Wal-Mart. The environmental watchdog group the Environmental Investigation Agency released a report earlier this month providing a detailed account of Wal-Mart's acquisition of wood and the Chinese manufacturing of its wood products for sale in the US market. The report includes detailed accounts from numerous undercover investigations the agency conducted with manufacturers and timber buyers in China.
The EIA's twenty-six page report documents product manufacturers in China making products for Wal-Mart including the popular Simplicity baby crib using questionably or illegally harvested wood from Russia.
Download the full EIA Report
The report is significant because a typical Wal-Mart Supercenter store in the US carries around 900 wood products. The company has made a number of important environmental or eco-friendly advances in the last year including pledge to eliminate all non-concentrated liquid laundry detergents from its stores by this May.
The EIA report is a major setback for the retail giant and offers a glimpse into the large scale problem of procuring wood for inexpensive US retail products.
EIA investigators found a complex timber trade industry in China focused on selling wood from trees in Russia. Large amounts of corruption were present in all aspects of the timber supply chain. Manufacturers repeatedly told undercover EIA investigators they had to turn to Russian wood because it was the only way to get wood of the necessary hardness at prices that fit Wal-Mart's established pricing structure. In order to meet the pricing demands of Wal-Mart, buying Russian timber is essential.
The report said much of the Russian timber comes from protected habitats where logging is illegal. Many of the manufacturers covered in the report said or implied Wal-Mart was aware of the source of the wood. According to the EIA report, Wal-Mart does not ask its suppliers where their wood comes from, and the retailer's 'don't ask' policy" is having particularly dangerous consequences for the high conservation value forest of the Russian Far East and the endangered species dependent on them, including the world's largest cat, the Siberian tiger.
EIA PHOTO - Chinese Timber Yard Processing Russian Wood
In response to the EIA report, Edelman a PR firm working for Wal-Mart, provided Sustainable is Good with the following statement from the company regarding its use of wood.
"Sustainable wood sourcing is important to our business and our customers. We have and will continue to encourage and advise our supplier partners to source from sustainable and ethical sources.
Earlier this year, Wal-Mart published guidelines for our Wood Furniture Supplier Preference Program. These guidelines encourage all of our suppliers to embrace transparency for wood fiber and raw materials by 2010. Through this program, Wal-Mart already gives preference to suppliers who can verify their use of sustainably harvested and recycled wood fiber.
When we discover sustainable sourcing or factory issues, we are committed to seeking alternatives, or even removing products from shelves. This was the case when we let our suppliers know that we would stop buying cypress mulch – bagged or forested in Louisiana – because of concerns around the loss of cypress forests along the coasts in that state.
We have reached out to our supplier community for further insight."
Sustainable is Good requested a copy of Wal-Mart's Wood Furniture Supplier Preference Program mentioned in their statement. The document is an internal document for suppliers and is not publicly released a representative of Edelman said.