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Dubious Vietnamese garden furniture: - Illegal timber felling

The Norwegian garden furniture market was last summer overflowed with hardwood furniture, allegedly produced partly from Vietnamese Shorea, with government approval. This happened in spite of the fact that Vietnam has prohibited this kind of export. Vietnamese sources claim that part of the wood originates from Kampuchea, which has also prohibited export. In spite of the countries' attempt to prevent deforestation, large quantities of next year's garden furniture will also come from illegally felled timber. Danish ScanCom is one of the biggest exporters to Norway.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
The Norwegian garden furniture market was last summer overflowed with hardwood furniture, allegedly produced partly from Vietnamese Shorea, with government approval. This happened in spite of the fact that Vietnam has prohibited this kind of export. Vietnamese sources claim that part of the wood originates from Kampuchea, which has also prohibited export. In spite of the countries' attempt to prevent deforestation, large quantities of next year's garden furniture will also come from illegally felled timber. Danish ScanCom is one of the biggest exporters to Norway.


By Morten Rønning
Norwatch

Among the big chains involved in the trade of cheap hardwood garden furniture, is Norsk Sengetøylager with its 49 stores in Norway. The company buys its furniture of the brand name Jutlandia from the Danish producer ScanCom. This company has large problems in explaining where, and how, they get hold of legal timber for their production.

ScanCom
The Danish company ScanCom is the biggest producer of furniture for export in Vietnam. The company has no factories of its own in the country, but rents production capacity from others. Nearly half the company's Vietnamese production is bought by Danish Jysk Sengetøjslager, which, among other places, has departments in Norway (Norsk Sengetøylager), Sweden and Germany.

According to the folder that accompanied ScanComs furniture this year, the furniture is manufactured from Vietnamese Shorea-timber, which is felled in the central highlands.

- Forestry here takes place under full official control and is subject to an extensive replanting programme, the folder says.

This in spite of the fact that Vietnam prohibited all export of Vietnamese hardwood products in April 1997. Since then, the country's furniture industry has had to import timber in order to keep the factories going. Nevertheless, timber is felled in Vietnam, and with dubious customs permits the companies manage to export their products, according to Vietnamese sources.

In its folder, Scancom also refers to a 10% Vietnamese export levy, which goes directly to reforestation of areas destroyed during the war.

- By buying a piece of Vietnamese furniture made from controlled wood, you contribute to the rebuilding and control of large forest areas in Vietnam, according to ScanComs folder.

ScanCom has faced opposition for its "product information" in several European countries; in Germany the environmental movement's pressure made the German department of Jysk Sengetøjslager withdraw ScanCom's folder.

ScanCom informs NorWatch that after the Vietnamese export prohibition their product information is no longer correct, but they insist that some of the products were actually made before the export prohibition became effective.

Kampuchean prohibition
The neighbouring country Kampuchea prohibited all export of unmanufactured timber on 31 December 1996. Anyhow, a large quantity of timber is exported to Vietnam, where it, among other places, ends up in the furniture industry. Local export licenses, which are accepted in Vietnam, are issued in spite of Kampuchea's export prohibition. The British environmental organisation Global Witness (GW) is at present working on a survey of the timber export from Kampuchea, and Simon Taylor in GW says to NorWatch that the organisation has interviewed Vietnamese companies which import from Kampuchea and resell to ScanCom's subcontractors.

ScanCom informs that after the Vietnamese export prohibition, they have based their production on timber from Malaysia and Indonesia, without giving us further information on this timber. Yet, the furniture has been sold with the Vietnamese Shorea-declaration.

Sources in Vietnam with whom NorWatch has talked, indicate that most of ScanCom's production is based on Vietnamese and Kampuchean timber, in the proportion 50/50.

Illegal felling
Nguyen Chien Thang, a member of the National Association for Trades and Woodprocessing Industries, confirms to NorWatch that the export prohibition of furniture production is absolute. Only traditional hardwood handicraft products are excepted.

- If Vietnamese hardwood furniture is sold, this is illegally felled timber, Thang ascertains.

It should be added that Thang is the manager of a rival furniture producer in Vietnam, Norwegian-owned Scanviwood. Moreover, there is no specific tax to finance replanting, on the contrary there is only regular export tax, according to Thang.

Vietnamese export documents of which NorWatch has copies show that ScanCom as late as February this year exported Vietnamese hardwood furniture, among others Cho, Shorea and Parashorea stellata. The last-mentioned variety is "most endangered" according to The World Conservation Monitoring Center, an information centre for conservation and sustainable use of the world's natural resources.

Additionally, ScanCom in its folder to a great extent blames the deforestation on "poor mountain tribes", who have been undertaking slash-and-burn cultivation since time immemorial.

Next year
ScanCom rejects to inform us about their planned amount of production next season. Also from Jysk Sengetøjslager in Denmark it is hard to get hold of the plans for next year, but it is reasonable to believe that Sengetøjslageret will increase their purchases from ScanCom. Negotiations are now in progress. Nor is it possible to get hold of this year's sales figures for Sengetøyslageret in Norway.

At an important furniture exhibition in Cologne in September, ScanCom faced demonstrations from the German environmental organisation Robin Wood for its Vietnamese activities.

ScanCom's representative in Vietnam, Paulo Andreassen, informs NorWatch that the company has a survey of which species of wood their subcontractors will use next season. The list is reproduced on the following page.

As the list shows, ScanCom's Vietnamese furniture next season will consist of timber from Malaysia, Kampuchea and Vietnam, according to Andreassen.

Rudi Pedersen in ScanCom in Denmark rejects his colleague's list, claiming he has more thorough knowledge of which species they will use. Among other things, he asserts that the only Kampuchean type of wood in Vietnam is Keruing, which is never used in ScanCom's production. Global Witness rejects this. In their surveying of timber smuggling from Kampuchea, they have registered at least 6 different types of wood.

Pedersen's contentions that the Vietnamese timber in the list above is felled legally, is in other words rejected by Nguyen Chien Thang.

ScanCom's big customer Jysk Sengetøjlager's policy is to have the market's lowest prices. According to players in the market, this has led big Norwegian furniture stores to avoid going into battle against ScanCom. Instead, they will concentrate on a smaller but more expensive assortment of teak furniture from Indonesia.
 
"If Vietnamese hardwood furniture is sold, this is illegally felled timber."
Nguyen Chien Thang, member of the National Association for Trades and Woodprocessing Industries in Vietnam.

WWF
ScanCom also claims that they are in the front within the furniture industry in Vietnam of introducing certification standards given by Forest Stewardship Council, in collaboration with World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It has not been possible to have this collaboration confirmed by WWF in Vietnam. Robin Wood claims that WWF has refused to collaborate and to accept money from ScanCom.

To NorWatch, ScanCom also claims that they collaborate with the Danish WWF. Kim Carstensen in WWF Denmark refuses that there is an agreement between the two parties, but he confirms that they have started a dialogue which aims at FSC-certification of timber used in the furniture industry. Carstensen also underlines that WWF wants immediate measures against use of timber from protected areas, smuggled timber and so on.

Other customers
ScanCom's furniture is also sold through other retailers in Norway. Riviera Fritid AS has sold ScanCom furniture this season, presumably under the brand name Riviera.

The manager of the company, Rolf Platou, does not want to inform how much ScanCom furniture they have sold, nor who their customers are. He adds that Riviera does not know whether they will sell this furniture next year. When it comes to the product information of the furniture they have sold, Platou has no answers, because the company does not inspect the furniture itself.

- I find little reason to give out information on this to you, Platou ends the conversation.

This year, ScanTroy has also sold ScanCom's furniture in Norway, among other places, through two sports centres in the Oslo region, Bærumshallen and Holmen ishall, which in the summer are turned into garden furniture stores.
 
"By buying a piece of Vietnamese wooden furniture made from controlled wood, you contribute to the rebuilding and control of large forest areas in Vietnam."
From ScanComs folder for this year's garden furniture.

 
Scanviwood
The furniture producer Scanviwood, of which the Norwegian Arve Varleite's company Scansia owns 60%, also produces garden furniture in Vietnam (see newsletter 1/98). Last year's collection came with a folder almost identical with the one used by ScanCom, while this year's folder informs that the timber, Keruing and Yellow Balau, originates from officially approved felling in Malaysia and Laos. Varleite asserts NorWatch that he can show proof that these raw materials are legally exploited. Still, he does not want to make the documentation available, neither to NorWatch nor to his customers.

- You (the Norwegian environmental movement, our note) are only after the poor, little man in the third world. By making demands on their furniture industry that you do not make on Norwegian industry at home, you crush the developing countries' opportunities at the starting point.

Varleite is eagerly engaged with these countries' opportunities to manufacture the timber for sale. Scanviwood imports around 100.000 cubic metres of timber for its production each year.

According to Thang, the manager of Scanviwood, you need an amount of timber equivalent to one containter to produce two containers of garden furniture. He further claims that Scanviwood accounts for 80% of the timber that is imported into Vietnam, while the company accounts for only about 15% of the export of finished garden furniture. This implies that the main part of the garden furniture which is exported from Vietnam comes from timber which is either felled in the country or imported illegally.

Scanviwood claims that they have documents from Vietnamese customs authorities, showing that they import all the timber they use. Such import documents must be produced when exporting finished products.

Varleite informs that his furniture costs 20% more than the rivals' precisely because he imports legal timber. According to himself this costs twice as much as Vietnamese/Kampuchean timber. This again is the reason why Scanviwood loses the competition for the biggest contracts, as for instance with Sengetøylageret, which is focused on price. Scanviwood sells only 2-3% of its products in Norway.

- You will be given documentation showing that the timber used by Scanviwood is legal when you can document factual results in your work to demand certification of the timber used in Norwegian furniture industry, says Varleite.

ScanCom in Vietnam  
The Danish company ScanCom is Vietnam's largest exporter of hardwood garden furniture, sold under the brand name Jutlandia. The company does not own any factory of its own, but uses a large number of subcontractors. 

The company's biggest customer is Danish Jysk Sengetøjslager, which distributes the furniture in Norway through Norsk Sengetøyslager. Smaller importers of garden furniture also distribute Jutlandia in Norway.

Survey of types of wood  
This is a survey of the types of wood which ScanCom's subcontractors will make use of next season.
See also the text above.  
 
Malaysia Yellow Balau and Keruing
Burma Camxe (Which ScanCom will not accept) 
Kampuchea  Keruing
Laos  Cho (Which ScanCom will not accept) 
Vietnam  Cho and XoanDau 
Indonesia ScanCom buys nothing this year, but in its production in Indonesia it will use plantation teak and bankiray, all of it certified by the state timber company Perhum Perutani. 
- Annonse -