Roseburg Forest Products has been accused of “negligent sourcing” after an investigation determined some of the company’s suppliers had illegally logged okoume wood in the Congo Basin rainforest.

The report, released Monday, was written by the non-government organization Environmental Investigation Agency. It claims the wood, which was used primarily in the Breckenridge outdoor siding product line until the company stopped all production and sale of the product after finding out about the investigation, was harvested illegally.

Roseburg Forest Products denied any knowledge or complicity in illegal timber harvesting practices in the West African region.

The Homeland Security Investigations department within the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is investigating whether two Pacific Northwest companies — Cornerstone Forest Products and Evergreen Hardwoods — harvested okoume timber in the Republic of Congo and Gabon in Western Africa illegally in participation with a China-based company, referred to in the report as the Dejia Group.

Roseburg Forest Products is one of the major buyers from both importers. The company said in a press release Tuesday it fully supports the investigation into the allegations and “wholly denies any knowledge of or complicity with the alleged actions.”

“Roseburg (Forest Products) proactively engaged third-party experts DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies to evaluate the importers’ compliance and perform onsite, in-person audits of their supply chains. The audits investigated country, species, supply chain, market and other external factors. Although the results of both audits were favorable, with no findings of Lacey Act violations, it appears that the audits were unable to detect the importers’ specific alleged illegal activities,” said Rebecca Taylor, a spokeswoman for Roseburg Forest Products, in a press release.

The investigation includes looking for infractions of the Lacey Act, which was passed in 1900 as the first federal law protecting wildlife. It was amended in 2008 to include plants such as trees used for timber, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website. It includes punishing American companies for violating state, tribal and national laws.

The company hired the auditing company in 2018 to conduct a full audit. This came shortly after Home Depot pulled all products with the wood in question from its stock.

The Environmental Investigation Agency conducted its own investigation into forestry practices in the Congo Basin over the past four years. It found that the Dejia Group, “one of the most influential groups of affiliated timber companies in Africa … has built its business model on bribery and other crimes.”

“According to evidence collected by EIA, the (Dejia Group) has continuously broken the most fundamental forest laws, has turned timber trade regulations upside-down, and has diverted millions in unpaid taxes from the governments of Gabon and the Republic of Congo,” the report summary said.

The agency found that the Dejia Group’s practices are common in the region and “plague the majority of companies.”

The rainforest in the Congo Basin is the second largest in the world, and the agency did the report in an effort to protect the rainforest and the local economies from outside abuse.

The agency recommended governments in Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the U.S., the European Union and China conduct investigations into the Dejia Group and its affiliates.

“(The company) has deliberately kept Evergreen as its intermediary with Africa-based suppliers and a convenient shield against legal enforcement actions,” the report reads.

The company was informed about the investigation on March 11 and was not aware of any issues beforehand, according to a March 18 press release. Taylor said the investigation is expected to last six to 12 months. The report stated that a company foreman said the okoume wood products make up to 10 percent of the company’s production.

“Roseburg has ended the use of okoume veneer in our products and quarantined all okoume fiber in our inventory. We have suspended our business relationships with Cornerstone and Evergreen during the investigation. Roseburg does not endorse or condone any illegal behavior or practices within our industry. Ferreting out bad actors is in the best interests of the wood products industry and the source countries.”

Taylor said the company will not look for a new okoume supplier during the investigation and the plants will continue working as usual.

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Business reporter

Janelle Polcyn is the business reporter at The News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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