New wood anatomy analysis from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) finds that Home Depot is continuing to sell doors containing tropical timber with a high likelihood of being illegally sourced from the Congo Basin. This new analysis, conducted more than two months after the release of EIA’s investigative report The Dictator’s Door and more than four years after EIA’s Toxic Trade report, both focused on illegal okoume trade, found doors containing okoume wood still for sale at Home Depot. The finding indicates that the company is already violating the updated wood purchasing policy – released on January 25, 2024 – and suggests that Home Depot persists in misleading U.S. customers while raising risk for its shareholders.
“Our anatomy analysis shows that high-risk okoume timber, which honestly and plainly should be considered illegal according to our findings released last year and in 2019, is still for sale at Home Depot,” said Raphael Edou, Africa Program Manager with EIA. “Nothing indicates, in our communication with the company, that they are addressing this critical issue with the urgency it requires. Frankly, the company’s investors and customers – not to mention the people of Equatorial Guinea – deserve better from a leading U.S. corporation.”
Home Depot’s wood purchasing policy states that “The Home Depot will not offer products for sale that contain wood from the Amazon basin, the Congo basin, Papua New Guinea, or the Solomon Islands unless it is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified,” (emphasis added). However, the continued presence of doors with okoume veneers on Home Depot’s shelves contradicts this policy, given that more than 99 percent of okoume log exports to China – where okoume veneers are processed and re-exported for use in these doors – come from just two countries, Equatorial Guinea and Republic of Congo, neither of which have FSC-certified okoume concessions. Indeed, EIA could not find any evidence of exports of FSC-certified okoume logs from the Congo basin to China, making it impossible for these products to comply with either their previous wood purchasing policy or the one they are newly showcasing.
According to EIA’s findings in The Dictator’s Door, over 1.2 million doors sold since 2018 are at high risk for containing illegally sourced okoume (Aucoumea klaineana) wood from Equatorial Guinea, likely in violation of the U.S. Lacey Act. The Lacey Act prohibits the importation into the U.S. of illegally obtained or traded wildlife and plants. The supply chain for these doors involves and benefits the oppressive and corrupt regime of President Teodoro Obiang who has ruled Equatorial Guinea since 1979 – the longest-serving head of state in the world outside of a monarchy – and whose government has one of the worst corruption and human rights records in the world.
EIA’s initial investigation, conducted over the course of seven years, shed light on corruption and illegalities throughout this supply chain. In Equatorial Guinea, the investigation found logging companies are harvesting and exporting okoume logs without regard for forestry regulations, forest communities’ rights, or tax obligations. Systemic illegalities are made possible by corruption throughout Equatorial Guinea’s forestry sector and government, reaching as high as Vice President Teodorin Nguema Obiang, son of the president. EIA’s findings confirm a longstanding issue: a 2013 Department of Justice filing described how Nguema Obiang demanded forestry companies pay him bribes in order to operate, and “abused his authority and influence within the E.G. government, both as a member of the cabinet and as President Obiang’s son, to make these demands and to retaliate against those who refused to meet them.”
EIA’s follow-up anatomy analysis, conducted in January 2024, involved sampling a further 150 doors at four Home Depot locations. An anatomy expert examined macro-level features such as color and grain, as well as more minute characteristics such as the structure of vessels, rays, and gums, to ascertain which veneers were consistent with which species. The analysis found that approximately a quarter of the veneers of the hardwood hollow core doors still for sale at Home Depot were consistent with okoume.
“A customer that today walks into a Home Depot, almost anywhere in the country, and buys a hardwood door is at high risk of unwittingly supporting one of the most brutal dictatorial regimes in the world,” added Edou. “The trade is damaging key forest ecosystems and the profits are financing Vice President Nguema Obiang’s lavish lifestyle, while 70 percent of Equatoguineans continue to live in poverty. This flies in the face of the supposedly new wood purchasing policy.”
EIA’s recommendations from its 2023 report included Home Depot immediately removing all okoume-faced doors from its shelves; reviewing its wood purchasing policy in order to include unbroken traceability to the point of harvest; and providing customers with information about the origin of the timber they sell. Home Depot’s apparent violation of its newly-released wood purchasing policy by continuing to sell okoume products from the Congo basin suggests that none of these recommendations have been followed.
Indeed, the lack of provisions for traceability and transparency in the updated purchasing policy indicates that their new policy is already obsolete, and that Home Depot cannot meaningfully assure consumers or investors of the origin or legality of the wood products they sell.