Federal agents raided Gibson Guitars' Nashville factory yesterday, seizing wood, guitars, computers and files. Sources told the Nashville Post that Gibson is suspected of violating the Lacey Act by helping to illegally import Madagascar rosewood into the U.S. via Germany.
Clearcut logging has destroyed thousands of acres of lemur habitat unique to the island, threatening the animal with extinction. Scott Paul, director of Greenpeace's forest campaign, defended the company's record to The Tennessean, saying, "Historically, Gibson has shown an awful lot of leadership; they are one of the manufacturers far ahead of the field." The raid, he says, "proves that even if you're very serious about buying only certified, well-managed supplies, it's still possible to get caught up....There are a lot of middle men between the guitar manufacturer and the company that is logging the ground [and] a lot of people who are not that honest in the timber business worldwide."
Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa, is home to 47 types of rosewood and a uniquely diverse blend of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. This includes 88 species of lemur, an animal the Malagasy people have traditionally regarded as sacred. Rosewood sells for $5,000 per cubic meter. Despite strong opposition from environmental groups, the new president of the financially strapped nation, Andry Rajoelina, issued an executive order in September legalizing the export of rosewood and ebony.
Activists and music journalists say the Gibson raid was surprising because the company's CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, has taken a lead role in urging instrument manufacturers to use only sustainable wood products. Guitar International
publisher Rick Landers told HeadCount, "Depletion of critical rainforests is of paramount concern to everyone I've spoken with in the guitar industry. This investigation is of interest to us all, and improving processes to ensure there are no weaknesses in Gibson's or any other builder's environmental compliance is necessary. Juszkiewicz is a board member of the Rainforest Alliance, so I'm sure he'll get to the bottom of this and work with investigators in a very transparent way to quickly fix any problems, if any are discovered."
Gibson issued this statement:
Gibson Guitars is fully cooperating with agents of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service as it pertains to an issue with harvested wood. Gibson is a chain of custody certified buyer who purchases wood from legal suppliers who are to follow all standards. Gibson Guitar Chairman and CEO sits on the board of the Rainforest Alliance and takes the issue of certification very seriously. The company will continue to cooperate fully and assist our federal government with all inquiries and information.
Debra is the singer/guitarist for Devi.