Orangutan Files Official Complaint Against Tokyo 2020 Olympic Organizers Alleging Irreversible Harm to Rainforest Habitat

Rainforest Action Network and Indonesian NGOs lodge numerous grievances related to use of tainted wood for Olympic venue construction

San Francisco – Today, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) delivered two complaints to the Japanese Consulate-General in San Francisco, claiming the use of tropical plywood to construct the Tokyo 2020 Olympic venues has destroyed valuable rainforests in Indonesia. The grievances were submitted via an orangutan-costumed emissary on behalf of the critically endangered Bornean Orangutan and Indonesia’s threatened forests(1). The filing coincides with the beginning of two days of meetings between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board and Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizers on the progress of preparations for the 2020 Games.

Today’s grievances follow four other complaints filed by RAN, WALHI North Maluku, and TuK Indonesia earlier this week to Tokyo 2020, Japan Sport Council and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The complaints allege that the Tokyo Olympics’ use of wood supplied by forestry giant Korindo has harmed the rights of community landowners in North Maluku who are fighting Korindo to retain control of their traditional lands. Nearly 25,000 people have submitted petitions calling on the IOC and Tokyo 2020 to cut ties with Korindo and ensure all wood used for the Olympics are legal and sustainable.(2)

“The Tokyo Olympics’ use of Korindo wood is a flagrant breach of the commitment by Olympic organizers to host a sustainable Olympic Games and it undermines the Sustainable Development Goal to halt deforestation by 2020,” said Hana Heineken of Rainforest Action Network. “While the violations contained in these complaints are deeply disappointing, these revelations provide a real opportunity for The Games, the Japanese Government, and the private sector to learn from these mistakes and take steps to ensure this destruction is not repeated in the future.”

NGOs have pushed Olympic organizers to disclose the extent of tropical plywood used to construct the new Tokyo 2020 Olympic venues (3). As of May 2018, at least 134,400 large sheets of tropical plywood from Malaysia and Indonesia have been used to mold concrete. This includes substantial volumes of uncertified Indonesian plywood: 110,200 sheets for the New National Stadium, a project of the Japan Sport Council which is part of the National Government, and 8,700 sheets for the proposed volleyball stadium known as Ariake Arena, a project of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

In-depth investigations into Tokyo 2020’s timber supply chain have revealed that notorious Korean-Indonesian conglomerate Korindo Group supplied some, if not all, of this plywood from Indonesia. A scathing report released earlier this month titled Perilous: Korindo, Land Grabbing and Banks revealed widespread evidence of illegality, environmental destruction and community rights violations across Korindo’s operations.

Korindo wood manufactured in its Balikpapan Forest Industries mill in East Kalimantan was found at the Ariake Area construction site on May 11 2018, supplied by Japanese trading company Sumitomo Forestry.(4) In 2017, nearly 40% of the Balikpapan mill’s timber supply derived from rainforest clearance, including clearance of orangutan habitat in East Kalimantan. Elsewhere, Korindo’s operations are converting huge swaths of primary rainforests into oil palm plantations.

Since 1990, Indonesia has lost over 25 million hectares of rainforests. For decades, Japan has been the top importer of Indonesian plywood. Rainforest destruction has pushed Indonesia into the top tier of global emitters. In the wake of the landmark report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and in the days leading up to this year’s COP24, the actions taken by International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board and Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizers take on greater significance.

The complaints filed today were directed at the Japan Sport Council and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, alleging noncompliance with Tokyo 2020’s Sustainable Sourcing Code for Timber that requires suppliers to procure timber that is harvested legally, in a manner that is “considerate toward conservation of the ecosystem” and respectful of Indigenous and community rights as well as worker safety,” and “from forests maintained and managed based on mid- to long-term plans or policies.”(5)

Tokyo 2020 organizers are currently in the process of revising their timber procurement policy, and have proposed to explicitly rule out conversion timber as well as encourage suppliers to establish traceability to the forest. “As evidenced by the use Korindo wood, the current policy is unacceptably weak and efforts to strengthen it are welcome. But the current proposals that are up for revision fail to address the inherent lack of due diligence displayed in Japan’s consumption of tropical plywood, which is driving deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia,” said Heineken.

Notes to the Editor:

  1. Complaints available on request. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Grievance Mechanism is explained here: https://tokyo2020.org/en/games/sustainability/sus-code/
  2. Petition: https://act.ran.org/olympic_extinction
  3. Information on the concrete formwork plywood procured for Tokyo 2020 Olympics: https://tokyo2020.org/en/games/sustainability/information/20180702-01.html
  4. See  RAN, WALHI, TuK-Indonesia and Profundo, Broken Promises: A case study on how the Tokyo 2020 Games and Japanese financiers are fueling landgrabbing and rainforest destruction in Indonesia, November 2018. Sustainable Sourcing Code for Timber, https://tokyo2020.org/en/games/sustainability/data/sus-procurement-timber-code2_EN.pdf