For more on logging in Burma and the use of forced labor in the logging sector, see Rainforest Relief’s report, Teak is Torture: Forced-Labor Logging in Burma.

British annexation of Burma in 1851, mostly for access to teak for shipbuilding for the massive global British navy, was the beginning of the end of Burma’s forests. Bent on logging teak, the British, however, also instituted a system of replanting called taungya, forcing shifting cultivators to plant teak saplings in their wake, thus assuring a future supply, but also displacing those very villagers, since they also made it illegal for anyone else to cut teak.

By 1940, much of the old growth teak was gone but in its place was a vast expanse of second growth teak forests.

The revolution for independence ushered in a new government but a military coup in 1962 spelled the final doom of Burma’s forests.

The then-State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was the junta chosen by the generals that executed the coup (they also executed the popular independence president Aung San).

The generals undertook to wrest control of the entire country from local tribal authorities and any potential opponents.

An election, forced by international pressure, where the opposing party, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Aung San’s daughter), took 82% of the votes, was ignored, party leaders were jailed and the SLORC began repressive armed counter-insurgency.

They also began a scorched-Earth policy to drive out the armies of opposing indigenous groups around Burma, especially the Karen, Mon and Karenni in the southern panhandle.

The SLORC gave out concessions to Thai loggers (eager for access to Burma’s teak) and by 1993, these companies were logging out the heart of the vast forests of the south, shipping hundreds of trucks a day over the Thai border to feed Thailands timber mills.

By 2000, much of Burma’s forests were devastated.

It’s estimated that 80% of natural teak on the world market originates in Burma (in fact, it’s often called “Burma teak” — a term which signifies the quality of old growth).

Burma’s teak exports feed the continuing demand for teak furniture exports from Burma and Thailand as well as < a href="">flooring and boatbuilding.