Activists Seize Illegal Teak!

Two articles follow on the seizure by US rainforest activists of furniture made from illegally harvested Burmese teak The activists were from Rainforest Relief and EarthCulture. Time Keating, Executive Director of Rainforest Relief, was arrested and is likely to be fined at least $1,000.

Activists Seize Illegal Teak! Defend Burma's People and Rainforests

By: Rick Spencer

On July 12, activists representing Rainforest Relief and EarthCulture entered Scan Designs in Bethesda, MD and announced they were reclaiming stolen teak imports. Tim Keating, Rainforest Relief's Executive Director told the manager, "We are seizing this furniture to return to the Karen people of Burma. This wood was cut using slave labor." As the manager called the police, the activists made their way out with two teak tables.

The furniture was taken outside at which time, Tim locked both of the front doors with a krytonite bike lock and locked himself by the neck to them. A group of about 15 other protesters, including several Burmese students then unfurled a 20 foot banner which read, "Teak is Torture for Burma's People and Forests."

The action grabbed the attention of 2 Asian radio networks and a local ABC television affiliate. It was part of Rainforest Relief's Teak Week of Action which saw demonstrations and direct actions in several US cities.

In an hour, fire fighters had unscrewed the door handles, and Tim was taken to jail. Tim was charged with a $1,000 fine from the fire department for blocking the entrance, and $1,500 for trespassing and disorderly conduct. The latter two may be dropped or reduced, but the $1,000 fine is likely to stick. If you can help out with a donation for Tim's legal troubles, I'm sure he would be extremely appreciative.

Burma is the source of the majority of internationally traded teak. A military coup in Burma in 1962 began a reign of terror and oppression that continues today. In 1988, the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) gunned down thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in a massive protest. Continued protests brought about general elections. Though the SLORC only received 2% of the vote, they refused to yield power. The SLORC generals use forced labor, rape, torture, forced relocation and intimidation to control the people of Burma. Cases of forced labor have been documented by the SLORC in logging operations.

Burma is home to the world's last primary teak forests and some of the last ancient rainforests remaining in mainland Asia, but are now being liquidated to fund the SLORC's rule. These forests are home to rare species such as the Asian Rhino, Asian Elephant and others. In the US, teak is used for indoor and outdoor furniture, interior trim, boat trim & decking and small consumer items like spice racks, salad bowls and napkin holders.

For more information on the teak/Burma situation contact Rainforest Relief at: or EarthCulture at:


EarthCulture PO Box 4674 Greensboro, NC 27404 Phone & Fax: 910-854-2957 e-mail:

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STOP THE TROPICAL CHOP! Use sustainable or recycled wood products- or simply reduce your wood consumption.

Rainforests are the home to 50% of the world's species & 50,000 indigenous peoples. By boycotting rainforest woods- like mahogany, teak, lauan, & ramin, you can help save our most important ecosystems!

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MEDIA CONTACTS: Tim Keating, Rainforest Relief, 718/832-6775 NCGUB, 202/393-7342




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A member of the group Rainforest Relief removed two pieces of furniture from a store in Bathesda today, claiming the furniture was stolen from an ethnic group, called the Karen, in Burma. Citing the use of forced labor and illegal export, the group "seized" the teak funiture and brought it outside the store to await police, who had been called by the store manager.

Tim Keating, Director of the group, locked himself to the front doors of Scan Contemporary Furniture on Wisconsin Avenue, preventing entry and exit by customers, some of whom were still inside.

A short time later a group of demonstrators, including many Burmese \expatriates, descended on the store, unfurled large banners and began chanting "Teak is Torture", and "Boycott Teak".

The action was part of a national week of protest aimed at alerting the public to the horrors of teak logging in Burma.

According to the organizers, the dictatorial and repressive military regime that has been in power in Burma since 1988 uses rape, torture, forced labor, forced relocation and summary execution and is eradicating the forests of Burma for profit.

Last week in New York City, 40 demonstrators descended on W&K Danish Designs, a store selling teak furniture, carrying signs and banners and chanting, "No Teak for Guns". A banner exclaiming, "Teak is Torture" was hung from the roof of the store.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, an activist locked himself to the carved teak sign of Dean Hardwoods, a company that imports Burmese teak directly from Burma as well as through other countries.

According to a report by Rainforest Relief released last week, illegal logging and export are widespread and the use of forced-labor logging in Burma is systemic and frequent. "The generals have encouraged 'self- reliance' of military battalions, and officers frequently generate income through involvement with illegal trade in commodities," said Tim Keating, Executive Director of Rainforest Relief, and author of the report. "They get their labor by forcing villagers to cut trees, mill lumber, carry ammunition, and provide food and building materials for the army personnel."

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democracy movement and head of the party that won 82% of the parliamentary seats in the democratic elections in Burma in 1990, has been kept under virtual house arrest in Burma since 1988. She has called on all foreign companies to cease economic ties with Burma until democracy is restored.

"That includes buying teak," says Keating.

"I am seizing the contents of this store on behalf of the people of Burma," Keating announced while locked to Scan's doors. "Their teak trees have been stolen from them at gunpoint and illegally shipped to Thailand to be turned into furniture to end up here".

Keating was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and tresspass, as well as fined by the Fire Marshall for blocking the store exit, a $1,000 fine. The other charges carry possible fines totalling $1,500.

In April, President Clinton activated sanctions against the military regime of Burma by barring any new investments by American companies there. These sanctions do not extend to the purchase of products originating in Burma, although legislation to do that was introduced a few years ago by Senator Patrick Moynihan, but did not pass.

Protestors are calling on sellers of teak furniture, flooring and lumber to cease buying teak originating in Burma until democracy is restored and human rights abuses and massive destruction of forests are stopped.

It is already too late for large areas of forests in Burma that have disappeared

since the SLORC took power. The demonstrators hope that importers will take a stand to spare what remains and heed the voice of the people of Burma.

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A military coup in 1962 by General Ne Win swept away a democratic government in Burma that had brought peace and prosperity and begun to put together the nation after the 1948 independence from Britain. The coup began a long history of abuse of the people at the hands of generals.

On August 8, 1988, after massive non-violent demonstrations throughout Burma in which Burmese citizens demanded democracy, human rights and an end to 26 years of military dictatorship, the ruling military junta order

troops to open fire into a crowd of demonstrators, gunning down over 3,000 pro-democracy activists. On September 18, 1988, the regime reorganized, declaring themselves as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). SLORC imposed martial law on the country and later renamed Burma "Myanmar".

In an effort to gain international legitimacy, SLORC held multi-party elections on May 27, 1990. The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), founded by Tin Oo and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won an overwhelming victory, capturing 82% of the parliamentary seats, despite the fact that the military had placed Suu Kyi under house arrest and barred her from running for Prime Minister. SLORC refused to acknowledge the election results, arrested NLD leaders and intensified its campaign of repression against the pro-democracy movement throughout the country.

SLORC typically uses torture, summary execution, forced labor, forced relocation, beatings and rape -- all in an effort to maintain or increase the flow of capital into the State and thus into the hands of the greedy generals and their friends and associates. Burma is also the source of the majority of heroin reaching on the world market. SLORC has been condemned both domestically and abroad for its brutal crackdown in 1988 and its subsequent abuses.

In April, the U.S. imposed sanctions on new investment in Burma due to human rights abuses. The UN has passed two resolutions calling on an end to human rights abuses in Burma and a restoration of democracy.


In 1988 it was estimated that Burma had 80% of the remaining naturally- occurring teak in the world. Thailand, once a large teak exporter, has reduced its teak to small remnants and was forced to institute a ban on logging due to flooding and droughts that occurred there in 1989 due to deforestation. Thailand has less than 20% of its original forest cover left.

India's teak has also been virtually eradicated.

Heavy demand for teak began during British colonial times, when large amounts were taken from India and then Burma for use in ship-building. Thai teak went to the construction of ships around the world, such as decks for yachts and war ships, indoor and outdoor furniture, interiors, flooring, and small consumer items like salad bowls and napkin holders.

Half of the hardwood exports from Burma are teak, mostly in the form of raw logs, streaming into Thailand, Singapore, China and India, as well as Europe and the U.S.

The U.S. imports are mostly in the form of lumber, flooring and furniture and often are re-exports of Burmese teak from Thailand, Singapore or Taiwan.

Burma had 72% of its land covered in forests in 1948 and as much as 47% up until 1988, when SLORC took power. Official estimates put current forests at around 36%, but some estimates from eye-witnesses along the borders put it at as little as 20%.


According to a report issued by Rainforest Relief entitled "Forced-Labor Logging in Burma", "human rights abuses have coincided with a large-scale sell-off of Burma's natural heritage. Massive migrations of people fleeing repression and subsequent increases in malarial infections along the borders and an increase in prostitution, have coincided with destruction of forests. . .

"The rule of the generals has brought with it a general centralization of wealth into the hands of a few, as local people are stripped of their ability to generate subsistence and small incomes from traditionally sustainable means.

Quoting Burmese refugees fleeing the army interviewed by human rights organizations along the Thai/Burma border, the report highlights numerous instances of tree-cutting at gunpoint and reveals a systemic use of forced labor by military personnel to log valuable hardwoods.

One refugee is quoted as saying, "'They have been cutting so many trees that the climate is now changing here and it has become drier, so every year the rice harvest is worse. . . The traders get permits to cut the trees by bribing the military and also the SSA."

Another refugee quoted said, "They'll never stop cutting down the trees. Now the land for 5 or 6 miles around [us] is all barren. It was jungle before. All the trees around the water ponds were cut down so the ponds have all dried up, and so have most of the streams and wells, so now there's a water shortage problem. We can't understand why they're doing it. . . "


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