The organising committee for the 2020 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games has come under renewed fire over its sourcing of timber for facilities being developed for next year’s event in Tokyo, with a group of non-governmental organisations claiming that the practice will leave a “bitter legacy” for Japan.

The 10 NGOs have issued a joint statement criticising a recent revision of Tokyo 2020’s timber sourcing policy, claiming that the amendments represent little real change. In November, Tokyo 2020 rejected renewed claims from the US-based Rainforest Action Network (RAN), one of the 10 signatories of the new statement, that facilities being developed for Tokyo’s event are using wood that has been obtained through illegal logging.

Investigations into the Korean-Indonesian conglomerate Korindo Group saw RAN produce two reports documenting widespread evidence of alleged illegality, environmental destruction and community rights violations across the company’s operations.

RAN claimed these abuses have resulted in Korindo supplying unsustainable and likely illegal timber for the construction of Tokyo 2020 venues, including Ariake Arena (pictured in December), the planned volleyball venue in the Tokyo Bay area.

In their latest statement, the NGOs, citing records published by Tokyo 2020 between December 2016 and November 2018, said that over 171,900 large sheets of concrete formwork plywood from the tropical rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia were used to construct the new Olympic venues, equivalent to approximately 9,823 logs. Some 73% of this wood is said to have derived from Indonesia, including the clear-cutting of natural tropical rainforests.

In response to concerns raised by NGOs, numerous petitions, and Tokyo 2020’s own experts on sustainability, the organising committee initiated a review of the existing timber sourcing policy in July 2018. However, the NGOs said the new policy announced on January 18 makes “minimal improvements” and fails to ensure the sustainability or even legality of the timber being procured.

The NGOs said: “We call on all Tokyo 2020 organisers to 1) promptly disclose a detailed assessment of how sustainability and legality has been assured for all tropical timber products that have been procured to date; 2) immediately end the use of all wood products from the tropics or other high risk areas for Olympic construction unless full traceability to the area of harvest is established and compliance with the timber sourcing policy’s five criteria for legality, sustainability and rights, along with FPIC, are third party verified; and 3) publish a thorough explanation of how the revised sourcing policy will make a difference in Tokyo 2020’s assurance of legality and sustainability throughout its supply chain, particularly with respect to high-risk timber. All disclosures should be made in a language accessible to affected communities.”

In response to the latest claims, Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya told the Reuters news agency: “With the support of a working group of experts, we discussed revisions to the timber sourcing code with various stakeholders, including NGOs, and summarised the results of these discussions.

“Tokyo 2020 is making maximum efforts to step up activities to help realise a sustainable society through the Tokyo 2020 Games and become a model for addressing sustainability issues both in Japan and other countries.

“Applying sustainability criteria to the supply of timber and plywood panels used for concrete construction purposes is a very new approach in Japan, so we believe the Tokyo 2020 Games will help increase the sustainability of timber supplied here.”

Along with RAN, the 10 signatories of the NGOs statement are: Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN), Bruno Manser Fund, Environmental Investigation Agency (US), FoE Japan, Hutang Group, Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), TuK Indonesia, Walhi North Maluku and Sarawak Campaign Committee (SCC).

Image: 江戸村のとくぞう