By Heather Sarantis

The worlds rainforests will be destroyed within a few decades if deforestation is allowed to continue at its current rate. Every day tens of species of plants, animals, and insects are driven to extinction due to the destruction of their habitat and indigenous cultures are lost. Corporations have become so efficient in their logging practices that deforestation has escalated to the level of a global crisis. The San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is addressing this urgent problem by calling for an international boycott of Mitsubishi Corporation, arguably the worlds worst corporate destroyer of rainforests.

Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) is a trading company that has lumber interests and fully or partially owns, or trades with, logging operations throughout the world. MC is the core member of one of the world's largest and richest corporate families, with assets and income greater than most nations. Michael Marx, former director of the Boycott Mitsubishi Campaign, states: "MC has an unparalleled legacy of illegal, unethical, and unsustainable logging."

RAN bases that distinction on the fact that Mitsubishi has been logging other countries' forests for over 40 years. In that time, MC has consistently been one of the largest importers of logs from forests in Southeast Asia, South America, North America, and Siberia. They claim their operations are all sustainable, but even the conservative International Tropical Timber Organization acknowledges that less than .5% of all rainforest logging is conducted in a sustainable fashion.

Mitsubishi Corporation is currently operating in nearly every continent on the planet. They have had operations in North America for over three decades. Mitsubishi is the largest exporter of wood products in the United States, with operations in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Alaska Pulp Company, which primarily produces pulp for use in rayon and cellophane, has been listed by the EPA as one of the top ten worst polluters in the American West.

In Washington and Oregon, Mitsubishi has been one of the largest purchasers of whole logs, many of which come from old growth forests. Even today, U.S. Mitsubishi International is one of the largest exporters of logs, sawn wood, and wood chips from this region. In British Columbia, Canada, Mitsubishi's Crestbrook operation is clearcutting the forests to produce pulp for export and is, according to The Vancouver Sun, one of the worst polluters in the province. Also in British Columbia, Mitsubishi's Canadian Chopstick Manufacturing Company (CCMC) is the largest disposable chopstick factory in the world which wastes 85% of its timber because it does not meet their quality standards. In Alberta, Canada, Mitsubishi has built the world's largest bleached pulp mills known as Alberta-Pacific, or AlPac, which operates 24 hours a day.

Mitsubishi's involvement in South America is extensive. Mitsubishi's subsidiary, Astillas Exportaciones Ltda., has helped Mitsubishi become the largest exporter of wood chips from Chile's old growth forests. They have ownership in mahogany logging in both Bolivia and Brazil. MC's operations extend into the Amazon as far as Benjamin Constant at the Peruvian and Colombian borders.

Mitsubishi logging operations in Asia are highly controversial. MC recently sold its shares in Daiya Malaysia, a logging operation that had been an environmental hot-spot for years and has a history of great resistance from the local indigenous people, the Iban. Despite this, independent sources have confirmed that it is still importing timber from Malaysia. Mitsubishi is a major buyer of plywood from Indonesia, and has also traded equipment for timber.

In Papua New Guinea, Mitsubishi has the sole buying rights in United Timber, which is fully funded by Mitsubishi Corporation. Mitsubishi publicly announced that it will increase its business with Burmese's repressive military government, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and continues to purchase teak from them. Mitsubishi is currently positioning itself to log or buy timber from Vietnam and Cambodia.

I n 1989, the World Rainforest Movement called for an international boycott of Mitsubishi Corporation. Mitsubishi was selected due to its aggressive role in rainforest destruction and its high consumer recognition. The activities of other Japanese general trading companies, such as Marubeni Corporation, C. Itoh & Co., and Nissho Iwai, are also being closely monitored by environmental groups. Mitsubishi Corporation's high visibility in the Japanese and international economies is the major reason why this campaign is directed against them.

RAN's ultimate campaign goal is "to create a true corporate greening campaign that transforms the way all corporations do business in all countries of operations." RAN targets corporations like Mitsubishi in order to establish standards for corporate conduct, and to demonstrate the ability of NGOs to bring pressure to bear on those who violate these standards. The campaign's activities have focused on letter writing, petitioning, demonstrations, and nonviolent civil disobedience.

In November, 1995, after six of the boycott, Mitsubishi Corporation representatives agreed to meet with Rainforest Action Network. RAN Executive Director, Randy Hayes, presented to them his 500 year plan for the conservation, preservation and restoration of the world's forests, and the development of managed logging reserves. Though this meeting was the beginning point for conversation between Mitsubishi Corporation and environmentalists, there has not been any change in Mitsubishi's behavior in the world's forests.

This meeting, however, was not the first time that Mitsubishi emissaries had sat down with RAN. Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America and Mitsubishi Electric, the initial targets of the RAN boycott, have been meeting with RAN for the better part of a year, and helping to bring MC to the table. Mitsubishi Motors and Electric were intent on negotiating an end to boycott-related disruptions at trade shows and commercial expositions.

Activists around the world were locking themselves to Mitsubishi automobile displays, and blocking the doors of electronics stores that carried Mitsubishi products. The companies considered these activities extremely detrimental to dealer relations.

In the end, Motors and Electric agreed to fund the creation of a Systems Group on Forests - administered by the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, USA - to explore the development of alternatives for traditionally woodbased consumer products. They also became founding members of the Future 500 Club, a league of businesses that have adopted a mission to do well by the environment by reducing their consumption of wood products and other natural resources through conservation, increased efficiency, and the use of alternatives. Considering these steps forward, RAN agreed to suspend civil disobedience against Motors and Electric until the Systems Group produced its final report, and the companies have had a chance to adopt its findings.

While representatives of Motors and Electric have expressed optimism over these initiatives, the trading company has so far declined any involvement with the Systems Group or the Future 500. "Perhaps MC does not want to open itself up for potential condemnation of its forest practices," Hayes speculates.

Given these results - and the lack of any assurances or evidence that MC will discontinue its business as usual logging practices - RAN is redirecting its boycott activities, and keeping the pressure on MC. April 1, 1996 marked the merger of Mitsubishi Bank with the Bank of Tokyo, creating the world's largest financial Institution. Rainforest activists responded with civil disobedience in four U.S. cities and demonstrations in several others.

New tactics are being introduced to the campaign effort. The organization recently sent a video to CEO's of socially responsible businesses requesting that they endorse RAN's appeal for an independent commission to resolve the issue. U.S. college campuses are presently working to obtain student government resolutions blocking the sales or purchase of Mitsubishi products on campus and recruitment by Mitsubishi companies on campus. RAN is hopeful these tactics will turn the heat up on the trading company.

The campaign is at a crucial point. There is reason to believe that if activists and concerned citizens around the world keep the pressure on the Mitsubishi corporate family, that Mitsubishi Corporation will have no option but to change their irresponsible logging practices. They are one of the world's largest corporations. People need to look to them to be leaders in keeping our planet healthy and our forests alive.

Rainforest Action Network works to protect the Earth's rainforest and support the rights of their inhabitants through education, grassroots organizing, and nonviolent direct action.

To get involved, or for farther information, please contact RAN at 450 Sansome St., Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94111. (415) 398-4404, email: 

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