A report produced by the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) accuses Jeld-Wen and The Home Depot Inc. of contributing to illegal deforestation. The 501(c)(3) agency reports that its investigative findings connect “forest crimes” in Equatorial Guinea and Asian processing hubs with “millions of doors sold to U.S. consumers via more than 750 Home Depot stores located in 29 states.” Officials say those findings contradict The Home Depot’s policies and violate the Lacey Act, a conservation law that prohibits trade of plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold.

“EIA’s findings suggest that Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement chain, and Jeld-Wen, the self-declared largest door and window manufacturer in the world, have violated the U.S. Lacey Act for years by importing and buying Equatoguinean illegal timber and failing to conduct proper due care,” the report states. The organization alleges that, from 2017 to 2022, “at least 1.2 million doors sold to U.S. consumers have a very high likelihood of containing illegal okoume wood harvested in Equatorial Guinea.”

A representative for Home Depot tells [DWM] the company received a copy of the report November 7, and that it is looking into the allegations.

“We take these allegations seriously and have begun an investigation of its claims to ensure that our suppliers are in compliance with The Home Depot’s wood purchasing policy and all applicable laws,” Evelyn Fornes, Home Depot’s senior manager of public affairs, tells [DWM].

Caryn Klebba, head of global public relations for Jeld-Wen, says, based on the documentation provided by suppliers, her company isn’t aware of any illegally sourced okoume wood in its supply chain. “However, we are conducting a comprehensive review and, in the interim, we have temporarily paused the shipments of all door products that may contain okoume,” she says.

Klebba says Jeld-Wen requires suppliers to follow all applicable laws and regulations of the United States, as well as those of respective countries of manufacture or exportation.

“We also mandate that all our suppliers abide by our Supplier Code of Conduct and the JELD-WEN Code of Business Conduct, which set forth our values and requirements for ethical sourcing and preserving the environment,” she tells [DWM]. “If we do become aware that documentation from any supplier is inaccurate or incomplete, we will take appropriate action, which may include severing ties with that supplier. Our long-standing commitment is to ethical, transparent and legal sourcing, and we continue to hold our suppliers accountable for meeting our standards.”

EAI recommends the U.S. Department of Justice investigate Jeld-Wen “and other companies importing and selling products containing okoume,” to determine if the Lacey Act is being violated, though no other companies are specified in the report.

Page 27 of EIA’s report includes a graph showing the percentage of doors examined containing okoume by store from 2019-2023. The Home Depot is shown at nearly 60%. The same graph shows Lowe’s at around 5% and Menard’s at around 90%. Menards isn’t mentioned elsewhere in the report.

Luke Allen, a media contact for EIA, tells [DWM] his organization was “not able to focus on Menards given the scope of the report,” but the door anatomy analysis conducted by EIA indicates that a high percentage of the doors sold by Menards contain okoume.

“While we could not confirm who their suppliers are, given the trade data on okoume logs coming from Equatorial Guinea and the lack of transparency in the supply chain, Menards is likely also exposed to significant risk of selling doors containing illegally harvested okoume wood from Equatorial Guinea,” Allen says.

Root of the Problem

EIA’s report says its investigators were informed that “Teodorin” Nguema Obiang, Equatorial Guinea’s former Minister of Forests and current vice president, and son of Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, reportedly collects a bribe for each cubic meter of timber exported from the country. In October 2017, a French court convicted Teodorin Nguema Obiang for embezzling and laundering millions of Euros.

While Equatorial Guinea has passed a series of forestry laws and bans over the past 10 years, conversations with major logging operators, “paint a different picture,” EIA investigators say. According to the report, okoume logs are exported to China, despite a roundwood export ban, where they are processed into veneers, investigators report.

“The okoume veneers are then manufactured into door skins, either in China, Malaysia, or Thailand, before being imported into the U.S. by Jeld-Wen,” the nonprofit alleges.

According to EIA investigators, “Conversations with Jeld-Wen’s top door skin suppliers confirm that the origins of the okoume logs are unclear, and that by the time they receive the veneers, it is impossible to verify the declared origins due to the opacity of China’s processing supply chain,” the report states.

While the U.S. and other countries have laws that prohibit the import of illegally harvested timber, China has no such legislation, EIA officials say.

According to the report, one of Jeld-Wen’s suppliers also told EIA investigators that, as they complete Plant Product Declaration PPQ Form 505 (the Lacey Declaration), “they declare all the door skins they export to Jeld-Wen as made of okoume harvested in the Republic of Congo despite the fact that they are incapable of tracing the okoume they used back to the specific country of harvest.”

Improperly declaring the country of harvest is a Lacey Act violation, EIA officials point out. Meanwhile, “Home Depot’s Wood Sourcing Policy claims to only source wood from the Congo Basin certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), however, according to EIA’s research, no valid FSC-certified okoume forests exist in either Equatorial Guinea or the Republic of Congo, which provide the vast majority of okoume logs exported to China for processing into door skins.”

According to the report, between June 2019 and August 2022, EIA has analyzed 665 flush doors sold at Home Depot. According to analyses, the hardwood used in 58% of the samples was okoume.

In its report, EIA investigators say they spoke with one of Jeld-Wen’s senior sourcing managers, who told investigators that, in his view, Jeld-Wen’s responsibility in potentially using illegally logged timber is limited, because the company is located at the end of the supply chain. The sourcing manager is quoted in EIA’s report, saying, “We just buy door skins. We’re not buying logs. We’re not buying veneer.”

In support of their suggested actions, EIA officials point to a case from 2016, in which Lumber Liquidators, then the largest flooring retailer in the U.S., pled guilty to importing illegal Russian wood into the U.S. via China. The company agreed to pay a penalty of $33 million for filing a materially false and misleading statement to investors.

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