Teak: a colonial tic

28 Apr 2006

If there’s a nostalgic habit rooted in the European disposition, it’s that of strutting about in parcs and gardens, on terraces and balconies, on armchairs and recliners fashioned from exotic woods that have been cut in remote forests and sold in small shops and superstores plundering worldwide in order to make enormous profits at a ethically high price, and to create mega-ports for container ships measuring 350 meters long. Teak is in the highest demand and penchant for the wood has created a teak fever that smells like the steamers and elephants of yesteryear. Nothing beats this little piece of the past – this low-quality souvenir of a long gone era – for a conversation starter on sustainable development.

Even the Musketeers underline, during their last prose work on garden furniture [édition 2006], “the phenomenal success of colonial style in teak imported from the British Indies in the past ten years” and “its attainable exoticism.” A blood-thirsty exoticism. Intermarché’s teak comes from Myanmar, internationally known for its open-mindedness and environmentally conscientious practices, particularly in forest management, financial transparency and respect of Peace Nobel prize.

The other teak-store is in Indonesia where natural forestry and dutch plantations from the 19th century are exploited, to the detriment of the village communities, by a state organization – Perum Perhutani – whose talent for reforestation, smuggling, illegal logging of teak and other species have been denounced both in the country and abroad.

Today’s teak is globally disappointing in respect to its traditional qualities. It is produced, without exception, on plantations practicing very short rotation, 15 to 25 years, compared to about 100 years during the past centuries. As of the year 2000, Bois et Tropiques, a french professional review, remarked that the proliferation of teak products being pushed by advertising campaigns risked the destabilization of the market and the use of younger and younger trees – trees that would be of greater and greater price and lower and lower quality.

Hedge funds, Dutch investors and the agronomic research institutes are viewing the teak future in Panama or in Brazil thought cloning plantations, beside the soy fields, with a blast chemical insecticides for the prevention of Hyblaea pueraI, the defoliating invader of teak forestry. Other experts predict a dark future where prices will consistently climb while wood quality deteriorates.

In April of 2002, Robin des Bois initiated a teak boycott in France and in Europe at large which resulted in an agreement with Carrefour. Today, after a steady reduction of its inventory, the largest french distributing chain no longer sells teak; the store has replaced it with a specie occurring in Bolivia, the roble, or Amburana cearensis, that offers the traits which are necessary in the creation of quality outdoor furniture and on which we stipulated in 2003 in the conditions for acceptable use, from both the social and the environmental standpoints. Next year, Carrefour and its affiliates will no longer sell wood furniture unless it has been accredited by the most reliable labels. Additionally, Carrefour will diversify its inventory of wooden outdoors furniture in the interest of establishing a long-term plan while supporting the preservation of biodiversity. The Amburana of South America must not meet tomorrow the same fate as the today’s Asian teak.

The time has also come for everyone to take part in the promotion of biodiversity and integrate non-wood materials into their selection – materials that are available and agreeable alternatives for garden décor: ceramics, metals and textiles, wrought iron, and synthetic materials produced in countries concerned about the protection of the environment and that when these products are discarded a collection and a specific recycling is available or considered.

Non-exhaustive list of teak furniture venders:
Art Decozen ; Auchan ; Boutique Dakoun ; Castorama ; Cèdre rouge (le) ; Compagnie des Bois et Meubles ; Cdiscount ; Déco (la) ; Delbard ; Destock Meubles ; Destockoutils ; Géant ; Habitat ; Hutte (la) ; Ikanis ; Intermarché ; Jardin de Catherine (le) ; Lapeyre ; Leroy Merlin ; Maison Coloniale (la) ; Maison de Valérie (la) ; Maison du Monde (la) ; Marchands du design (les) ; Oasis Teck (l’) ; Piscinecash ; Point P ; Royal Arrow ; Saint-Maclou ; Tek Import ; Truffaut ; Unopiu.

Visit also in French « Boycott du Teck »


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