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New Report Finds That Home Depot Sold Illegally Sourced Tropical Wood for Years

Tainted supply chain for Congo Basin timber dismantled, but systemic opacity issues affecting global biodiversity remain

A new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) presents findings from eight years of investigation into the timber supply chains that connect crimes in the Congo Basin forests to consumers in the United States (U.S.). According to EIA’s new research and analysis, Home Depot has sold illegal tropical timber at a massive scale to its consumers for more than a decade. The sale of illegal wood represents a violation of the amended version of the U.S. Lacey Act. A few days away from Home Depot’s annual shareholder meeting, the report underscores the need for the company to urgently address its widespread and systemic impact on biodiversity – a key concern raised by investors who have put forward a shareholder proposal to that effect.

The report, Failing the Forest, builds on the findings of EIA’s 2019 report Toxic Trade and 2023 report The Dictator’s Door, both of which documented illegal logging and associated trade between the Congo Basin and U.S. It presents new findings and draws the conclusion that Home Depot has sold illegal timber to its consumers for more than a decade. The okoume wood (Aucoumea klaineana) sold by Home Depot in one of its most popular door products, sold across the country, comes from the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea. According to EIA’s new research, more than 80 percent of okoume produced in the Republic of Congo is illegally sourced, due to bribery, fraud, and violations of the forest and tax codes. EIA’s 2023 report The Dictator’s Door further provided evidence that all okoume originating from Equatorial Guinea is illegally sourced, due to pervasive corruption and illegalities throughout the country’s forest sector. Several of the systemic illegalities that persist in the Equatoguinean timber sector had been exposed in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Contrary to Home Depot’s claim that the company will only source or sell Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood from the Congo Basin, EIA’s investigation indicates that none of the okoume used on the doors sold to the U.S. consumers could come from an FSC-certified concession. In this way, Home Depot has misled consumers as well as shareholders. Home Depot’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-K for the fiscal year ending February 3, 2019, maintains that they have “updated our wood purchasing policy to require FSC certification for wood products from the…Congo basin.” This claim was repeated in Home Depot’s 10-K for the year 2020. According to EIA’s findings this cannot be true.

In response to EIA’s investigation and public campaign, Home Depot noted in May 2024 that they “have received assurances that the doors that Jeld-Wen is supplying to Home Depot do not contain okoume wood, any wood from the Congo basin that is not FSC-certified, or any wood originating from the Congo basin that is processed in China.” If corroborated, this is a significant and positive development against illegal logging in the Congo Basin and against highly opaque Asian supply chains that have laundered tropical illegal timber for decades.

According to Raphael Edou, Africa Program Manager for the Forest Campaigns at EIA, “Home Depot has seemingly taken a positive and important step to stop being one of the largest dealers of illegal Congo Basin timber in the U.S. The new requirements make it harder for forest offenders in the Congo Basin to take advantage of the opacity of global supply chains to launder their crimes.”

Edou added: “However, Home Depot failed to address the larger systemic issue our reporting has identified. Without transparency and traceability in their wood supply chains, Home Depot cannot know for a fact their timber is legally sourced, and therefore cannot effectively mitigate risks for shareholders and offer peace of mind to consumers.” 

Home Depot’s wood purchasing policy – most recently updated in January, 2024 – does not include traceability or transparency as sourcing requirements and fails to address the larger, structural reasons that this trade existed in the first place and could exist for other timber species widely distributed across the U.S. It also fails to address shareholders’ concerns related to the company’s biodiversity footprint.

EIA’s new report also demonstrates Home Depot’s exposure to biodiversity risk through, among others, its wood supply chains and their impacts on forest ecosystems. A shareholder proposal from Domini Impact Investments LLC underscores the need for Home Depot to take action to address their exposure to these and other biodiversity-related risks. The proposal will be considered at Home Depot’s annual shareholder meeting to be held on May 16.