Uproar about Tokyo Olympics Construction: “No Rainforest Destruction or Human Rights Abuses”

The use of tropical wood for construction of new 2020 Olympic facilities in Tokyo has spurred protests, and petitions with 140,000 signatures that urge the Japanese government to take immediate action were delivered today to Japanese Embassies in Switzerland and Germany. The petitions demand that Japan must promulgate and adhere to strict and binding standards for timber on legality, sustainability, and human rights grounds. Failure to do so, many NGOs argue, could result in harm to biodiversity, the climate, and local communities.

The protests come with the ongoing recognition that that the Japanese Government has been sourcing tropical wood from a Malaysian logging company with a record of human rights abuses, illegal logging, and rain forest destruction. Akira Harada of the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network said, “We relayed increasing concerns within Japan about the role of our country in undermining human rights and the vanishing tropical forests of Sarawak while authorities green wash this unacceptable situation.”

These are issues that the Japanese Government has failed to address to the satisfaction of many environmentally-conscious individuals. Indeed, in December 2016, over 40 civil society organizations warned the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government in an open letter about the risks associated with using wood products from Sarawak and Indonesia.


Photograph Courtesy of Rainforest Action Network

According to Mathias Rittgerott of Rainforest Rescue,

“The Olympics is supposed to be all about ‘fair play’ and ‘the youth of the world coming together.’ In reality the human rights of Sarawak’s indigenous people and the environment are being threatened by the Olympics. The use of tropical timber from Sarawak on Olympic construction sites is nothing to celebrate.”

The tropical wood has been incorporated into concrete forms as part of the construction of the new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Rittgerott delivered the petitions to the Japanese Embassy in Germany.

Annina Aeberli of the Bruno Manser Fund, who delivered the petition to the Japanese Embassy in Switzerland, said,

“The Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee have to take immediate measures to assure that no timber from contexts of human rights abuses, environmental destruction and violations of laws are allowed at the construction sites.”

Photograph Courtesy of the Bruno Manser Fund

The Bruno Manser Fund seeks fairness in the tropical forest and is committed to campaigning for the conservation of the threatened tropical rainforests and their biodiversity. They also strive for the respect of the rights of the rainforest dwellers.

Olympic authorities have defended their use of the tropical wood, stating that materials found on the construction site were PEFC certified. Environmental organizations disagree and suggest that the tropical timber in question has been mixed with acceptable wood sources. Activists also debate whether the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee’s timber sourcing code is adequate due to the likelihood of contamination with tropical timber. “The Code is effectively allowing unsustainable tropical wood to be laundered. We should instead be using low risk domestic wood for the construction of the Olympics,” said Toyo Kawakami from Rainforest Action Network.

Bilong Oyoi, a former headman from the Penan village of Long Sait who also helped to deliver petitions, spoke about concern over tropical plywood being used at construction sites for Olympic venues:

“I would like to forward a message from the Penan to the respective Japanese authorities: In Sarawak, our forests have been logged, and there are very few trees left. Please help us to protect what is left of the rain forest.”

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