Wood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators is under scrutiny by a Canadian television news show and U.S. based environmental group EIA that accuses the company of selling illegally sourced wood from the Russian Far East.
EIA claims in very strong terms that Lumber Liquidators “has purchased wood from exporters that have bought wood from saw mills that have processed laundered timber.”
In response to an inquiry by Canadian TV channel Global News that asked Lumber Liquidators if it had ever sold or continues to sell wood sourced illegally in the Russian Far East, the company issued an official written statement with the clear answer of “No.”
Here is the rest of EIA's statement:
EIA’s report Liquidating the Forests conclusively documents that Lumber Liquidators imported large quantities of wood illegally sourced in the Russian Far East. The evidence includes recorded conversations with multiple top officials of a major supplier to Lumber Liquidators who explained that their wood, including the wood sent to Lumber Liquidators, was illegally sourced. EIA’s report also relied on publically available trade data, copies of court cases from Russian authorities, scientific analyses, and shipment records.
Lumber Liquidators claims it cannot find any clear statement in EIA’s report that states Lumber Liquidators imported illegal wood. Let us clarify then: Lumber Liquidators imported illegal wood. A lot of it. And they know it. We do not know why Lumber Liquidators would choose to make such an obviously false statement to the public.
Lumber Liquidators supports its denial of having received illegal wood with the description of a “rigorous compliance program,” which appears to be extraordinarily misleading to any potential consumer. The statement describes policies the company “has in place” without saying if these were implemented before or after the raid of its headquarters and the publication of EIA’s report. It is entirely unclear whether any illegal wood already imported is continuing to be sold to unwitting customers.
Any measures that were in place while Lumber Liquidators imported high volumes of illegal wood were clearly not working. For example, the statement explicitly refers to one measure by date, a “training on Lacey Act compliance” and trade data show Lumber Liquidators continued receiving millions of square feet of flooring from Xingjia, the supplier described in EIA’s report, in the year following the training. Similarly, the ability to stop a shipment in China before it leaves, which the statement refers to, is a good thing only if the shipment is actually stopped. If this ability was already in place before Lumber Liquidators imported illegal wood from the Russian Far East, it was clearly not utilized.
Lumber Liquidators further stated that EIA’s Liquidating the Forests report “contained fundamental inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims” and that representatives have reached out to EIA “numerous times” but “have been met with no response.” EIA staff has had two impromptu conversations at forest-related public meetings with Ray Cotton—a senior vice president for sustainability—during which he never questioned the EIA report. These interactions are the only communication from Lumber Liquidators staff that we are aware of.
EIA requests that Lumber Liquidators makes public any information it has to substantiate its negative assertions about EIA’s report and its claims that it has never received illegally logged wood from the Russian Far East.
A few examples of EIA’s documented evidence in its 60 page report, Liquidating the Forests, published one year ago, include:
In the first and subsequent conversations, the President of Xingjia, Lumber Liquidators’ primary Chinese supplier of solid oak flooring, told EIA investigators who were posing as potential wood buyers how he systematically cuts illegally in the Russian Far East and buys illegal wood from other loggers, and how that particular wood is used to make the flooring for Lumber Liquidators.
Top officials from Lumber Liquidators visited the same President of Xingjia to observe the company’s sourcing in the Russian Far East in the spring of 2012. Since the time of that visit, U.S. import data records indicate Lumber Liquidators increased the frequency of shipments from Xingjia.
Analysis of trade data shows that Lumber Liquidators has received at least 35 separate shipments from Xingjia, totaling about 3 million square feet of wood flooring after Lumber Liquidators’ visit with Xingjia’s President.
Isotope analysis of samples of flooring from the manufacturing line Xingjia produced for Lumber Liquidators indicated that all samples of wood flooring were Russian in origin.
Traders in the Russian Far East estimate that 80 percent of the wood in the Russian Far East is illegally sourced.
While EIA’s investigation was limited to the final market destination of illegally sourced Russian hardwoods, other organizations have also questioned the legality and sustainability of Lumber Liquidators’ sourcing practices. In May 2014, Greenpeace released an investigation that highlighted the systemic fraud and illegalities in the Brazilian Amazon. Greenpeace concluded that Lumber Liquidators’ Brazilian suppliers were at high risk of illegality and noted that Lumber Liquidators “has purchased wood from exporters that have bought wood from saw mills that have processed laundered timber.”
The statement issued by Lumber Liquidators references an ongoing dialogue with Greenpeace and notes that “both parties realized that Lumber Liquidators needed to do a better job of broadly communicating our longstanding policies to protect the environment.” Greenpeace has since issued a statement “clarifying the context” of the ongoing dialogue, stating it “has offered recommendations to the company for 'best practices' for wood product sourcing policies.”
Having been presented with clear evidence that existing policies are deficient in preventing the import of illegal wood, EIA recommends that Lumber Liquidators focus on in fact improving those practices instead of attempting to cover up their shortcomings by doing “a better job of broadly communicating our longstanding policies.”.