By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen & Morten Rønning
Garden furniture made of teak, the so-called deck chairs, for instance, is very popular in Norway curretly. The large furniture chains are eagerly advertising their goods and emphasize to customers that the wood stems from plantations, mainly in Indonesia.
NorWatch wrote in the last newsletter about Id‚-Skeidar's import of teak furniture, where the teak turned out to be from Burma. Closer investigation shows that The Norwegian Furniture Center, DNM, also import from Burma, and that the timber does not come from plantations, but is cut in the forest.
According to sources NorWatch has been in contact with, The Norwegian Furniture Center received 12 containers of garden furniture from the Norwegian-owned producer Scansia in Rangoon last winter. That furniture is now sold through the DNM's own stores, and also through those of the collaborator Id‚-Skeidar.
"NFC is now looking differently at the situation in Burma, and cannot accept further trade with that country," emphasizes Hans Pedersen of Skeidar DNM wholesale, who is in charge of buying the furniture.
Customers in the Furniture Center have been told that the teak from Burma comes from plantations. If the producer in Burma, Arve Varleite, speaks the truth, this is not the case. Also, Frode Kleven, the buying agent in PK Products who has sold the furniture to the Furniture Center, cannot give any assurance about teak plantations in the country. He admits that the forest is being cut, but stresses that in his opinion the forest administration is good and that he cannot see that teak is a rain forest tree.
Rain Forest Action Network has since 1989 encouraged a boycott of teak from Burma because of the country's poor rain-forest politics.
"We have decided not to buy any more teak from Burma before the situation has changed. We have also decided to stop all advertising for these products," DNM's Director of Marketing Kristian Kulsrud said. He added that it may be relevant to send out a letter to the stores to explain that the furniture after all does come from the forest and not from plantations.
On the question about what the furniture chains should do, the Christian Democrat Kjell Magne Bondevik answered, "I find it very unfortunate and thoughtless that this furniture has been imported from Burma now. And I am glad the furniture chains now going to put a stop to it. I hope it will be executed as soon as possible. It would be a good thing if those now selling the furniture would, from now on, view the case differently and consider supporting the solidarity work in Burma. I am myself leading an international network of politicians engaged in this."
Encouragement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Norway has spoken for international sanctions against Burma, but it has thus far not lead anywhere. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs last year encouraged Norwegian business to stay out of the country. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the leader of the opposition Aung San Suu Kyi commits Norway to a follow up. Norway's trade with the country is, in any case, looked upon as so insignificant that a unilateral boycott is without value. Imports from the country were last year near 8.5 million krones, about the same as the year before. The majority of imports consist of sawn wood while furniture constitute a little more than 2 million krones. The import of garden furniture increased six-fold from 1995 to 1996.
The Norwegian citizen Arve Varleite, owns 70% of the furniture producer Scansia Myanmar. The company buys teak from the state owned timber company Myanmar Timber Enterprise, a company which is directly controlled by the military regime (SLORC). (Please see newsletter no. 9, 1996).
The Burmese military regime receives international criticism for its severe fellings in the rain forest. The country has almost 80% of the remaining natural teak forest in the world. Environmentalist groups have estimated that Burma will have cut all of its teak within 25 years with today's cutting rates. In addition, the felling of teak entails loss of homes of the opposition and the natives. They will easily be driven out, and will easily be victims of the SLORC.
Garden furniture, from the above mentioned Indonesian plantations, that was founded by the Dutch colonials, can also be found on the Norwegian market. These producers have among others gotten help in Norway from Norimpod, NORAD's office of importation. Terje Aasheim, in Norag AS, stands as importer for some of these furniture. He has visited the plantations himself, and feels good about the production.
There also exists Burmese teak on the Norwegian market from other producers than Scansia. Among others, much teak is imported to China for processing. The importers of Chinese teak wood that NorWatch has been in touch with, refuse to admit that their teak is of Burmese origin. They anyway point out the fact that sale of teak from Burma to China is not illegal.
Burmese teak also ends up in countries like Thailand and Indonesia, and some of this production may also end up in Norway. This market is so difficult to follow, that it is hard to place the exact origin of much of the wood.
"With today's cutting rate, all teak reserves will be gone within 25 years."
New Internationalist, June 1996 (about the situation in Burma).
"Thanks to SLORC, Burma is today one of the world's most peaceful countries."
Furniture producer Arve Varleite in Scansia about the military regime's leadership.
Teak Furniture from Burma
70% of the Garden furniture producer Scansia Myanmar is owned by the Norwegian Arve Varleite. The company buys all its teak lumber from Myanmar Timber Enterprises, all owned by the Burmese military junta.
Norwatch Newsletter 6/97