Big Story 10

Tokyo's wooden Olympic stadium using timber linked to rights abuses, charities say

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Timber from a Malaysian logging giant accused of deforestation and human rights violations is being used to construct the wooden stadium that will be the centerpiece of Tokyo’s Olympic Games, said a group of charities.

An investigation by the charities this month twice found plywood from Sarawak-based Shin Yang at the National Stadium construction site - a breach of Japan’s pledge to host a sustainable Olympics in 2020, according to seven environmental and rights organizations.

Shin Yang, one of the “big six” logging companies on the Malaysian part of Borneo, has systematically cleared pristine rainforest from the Southeast Asian island, said a statement by charities, including Global Witness and Rainforest Action Network, released on Thursday.

Tokyo’s Olympic stadium will be constructed around an unusual set of wooden lattices - a design conceived by architect Kengo Kuma to harmonize with a forest of oak and camphor trees surrounding the nearby Meiji shrine in the Japanese capital.

Shin Yang did not immediately respond to telephone calls or questions sent by email.

According to a 2015 report by Global Witness, Shin Yang has cut down over 40 hectares of forest a day on Borneo, where half the plywood used in Japan’s building and furniture industries is produced.

Shin Yang is involved in a decade-long conflict in the central part of Malaysian Borneo, with the Penan indigenous minority. Community leaders told investigators for a 2014 report by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia that forest clearance to create palm oil plantations violated their rights to traditional lands on which they depend for their livelihoods.

“Shin Yang is one of the most notorious exploiters of Sarawak’s tropical forests, and plywood from this company would fail to meet any sustainability criteria,” said Peg Putt, head of Markets for Change, one of charities.

A spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it had agreed on a Sustainable Sourcing Code for Timber with Tokyo Metropolitan Government and National Government to assure venues for the games met ethical standards.

The IOC had been assured that the wood used for the Olympic stadium met certification standards, the spokesperson added.

Japan Sport Council (JSC), the government body in charge of building Olympic competition venues, said Shin Yang timber was being used.

But both JSC and Taisei, the building company leading the stadium’s construction, told Thomson Reuters Foundation all timber on site meets requirements laid out in the code.

Hana Heineken of Rainforest Action Network said a provision in the code exempted cheap plywood used to shape concrete from the sustainable sourcing regulations.

Japan’s government has said the wooden design was chosen over competing proposals due to its fast construction time and sensitivity to the environment.

Architect Kengo Kuma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he could not comment on questions related to the construction of the stadium.

According to the report from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Shin Yang deforestation threatened local communities’ ability to continue traditional ways of life in the forest, and recommended the government step in to protect the Penans, one of the country’s most marginalized groups.

“To use Shing Yang timber products is to deprive the vulnerable Indigenous Penan and Iban peoples of their customary rights, livelihoods, and cultural practices,” said Nicholas Mujah of Sarawak Dayak Iban Association, an indigenous rights charity.