From time to time, Dapwood receives requests to build Teak (Tectona grandis) furniture. While Dapwood is always open to customer requests (because after all we proudly promote the fact that unlike most competitive brands, we craft furniture to customer’s individual specifications) we do not believe teak furniture to be an eco friendly, or quite frankly, a morally acceptable solid wood. Let us explain.
Teak is a tropical wood which comes from Southeast Asia. One third of the world’s supply coming from Burma (officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar), with the balance of teak production coming from Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia. As an imported product, U.S. regulations require teak (as well as mahogany and other tropical hard woods) to be heavily fumigated to kill various worm and insect larvae commonly found in wood products coming into America. Research has shown that toxic pesticides used in the fumigation process are effective in as much as they penetrate into the wood and kill any infestation. Unfortunately, these toxic chemicals do not magically go away. Of particular concern is the fact that most humans spend one third of our life in bed- a time in which the human body is particularly susceptible to absorption of chemicals in the environment.
For this reason alone we do not believe teak furniture and other imported wood products are suitable for bed frames, nightstands and other bedroom furniture. But the issue is more compelling than this alone.
Teak grown in Southeast Asia is subject to the most environmentally irresponsible harvesting practices on our planet. Due to over cutting, teak is now classified as near endangered. This over exploitation has resulted in deforestation which in turn has caused massive floods in the region causing hundreds of deaths in recent years. Damage to the environment is incalculable. Is the want for a piece of teak furniture worth the environmental damage?
Human Rights Violations
Perhaps most worrisome, teak from Myanmar and teak furniture from Thailand are associated with some of the worst human rights violations in the world. Burma has long been considered a pariah state, isolated from the rest of the world, using teak as a source of foreign exchange as a primary means of supporting one of the most brutal military regimes in power. The U.S. and other nations canceled foreign aid due to the 1988 massacre where it was estimated over 3000 pro-democracy protesters were killed. Furthermore, pro-democracy demonstrations in 2007 resulted in hundreds more killings.
In 2010 Burma held its first general election in twenty years. There is cautious optimism since the election that Myanmar is slowly transitioning from military to civilian democracy. The U.S. and other countries have only recently started up diplomatic relations with Myanmar but limit help to strictly humanitarian aid. With the Peoples Republic of China being Myanmar’s primary ally, only time will tell if Myanmar will gradually emerging from isolation and its brutal past.
When everything is taken into consideration, we at Dapwood believe that it is not only irresponsible to import teak furniture but equally dangerous to live with this wood. Teak is in stark contrast to Dapwood’s goal, as well as other Certified B-Corporations, of contributing toward a better world.
We would love everyone to choose our products but if you don’t, please ask makers where their wood comes from and if it at least has an FSC listing. Or better yet, choose furniture and other products made from sustainably harvested, solid woods from American.