Large trading companies and DIY stores in Japan are buying huge amounts of timber from companies in Malaysia linked with systematic illegal deforestation, widespread human rights abuses and rampant corruption – much of which is sanctioned by the Japanese government as legal, according to a new report which has rocked the construction industry and other wood consuming industries in that country.

Published by environmental and human rights group Global Witness, the An Industry Unchecked report accuses the Japanese government and major corporations of turning a blind eye to practices of forestry companies operating in the Surawak region.

Surawak is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo where the report says rampant deforestation has affected all but five per cent of original forest cover, rights of indigenous communities to ancestral land are often ignored and kickbacks are frequently paid for logging or plantation rights.

The report says Japan accounts for 31 per cent of the region’s $US800 million in timber exports, including products used for flooring, fixtures, building exteriors furniture and tropical plywood used as temporary moulding for wet concrete.

“Sarawak is Japan’s largest source of tropical timber, which might explain why the Japanese government and industry are turning a blind eye to the rampant illegal and unsustainable logging in Sarawak’s forestry sector,” Global Witness head of international forest policy Rick Jacobson says.

The report singles out major Japanese buyers of timber such as the Sojiz Corporation and Itochu, saying those buyers continue to source from suppliers Samling and Shin Yang despite widely documented practices including logging outside permit zones, clear-cutting inside river buffer zones, logging of protected trees and illegal construction of logging roads.

It says many of many of these supplies are being certified by the Japanese government as ‘legal’ under a certification scheme where definitions of what is legal and what is not remain vague and the Japanese government merely accepts assurances from the Surawak government as proof of legality.

“Despite the evidence, major Japanese buyers such as Sojitz Corporation and Itochu Corporation continue to source from Samling and Shin Yang and have not put in place measures to independently verify that timber products sourced from the two companies are produced legally and free from human rights abuses,” a statement accompanying the report says.

Jacobson has called on the Japanese government to beef up measures to combat illegal trade.

“The fact that so much timber from Sarawak receives a stamp of approval from Japan’s Goho-wood legality verification system despite the evidence of systematic illegal logging by major logging companies is cause for serious concern,” he says.

“The Japanese government should take measures to prohibit illegal timber from entering its markets and require companies to carry out due diligence on their supply chains to ensure they aren’t contributing to illegal logging, human rights abuses, and rainforest destruction in places like Sarawak.”