Indonesian Furniture Industry

For years, environmentalists have worried about the deforestation of jungles in Indonesia that supply precious woods for garden furniture in the West. But along with these natural resources, a centuries-old livelihood is also under threat as ILO TV explains.

Date issued: 07 February 2006 | Size/duration: 00:02:02 (3.7MB)
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Indonesia’s teak and mahogany forests are under threat. If they disappear, so too, will the centuries-old skill of wood carving and furniture making. Fierce competition with China is creating a higher demand for raw materials, and unsustainable logging practices may one day mean there is no more teak wood left to carve.

Rama Ardana, Forest Watch Indonesia

Damage to our forests will continue until we do not have anything left to cut or to manage. I think Java only has about three years until we cut the last tree.

Nearly 100’000 people in central Java work in the furniture industry using skills handed down from generation to generation. Their unique craftsmanship can be found in old royal palaces but most of them work in cramped quarters with no job security and little social protection. This man is typical, he’s been a wood carver since he was 17.

Wood carver, central Java

If I am healthy and I work hard, I can get by. If I am sick, I don’t get any pay. I stay at home. For one day’s work, I get about $2.50 – that’s if the job is done.

Competition from neighbouring countries and diminishing raw materials are forcing this industry to change. With support from the International Labour Organization the furniture makers of Jepara and the Indonesian government are more aware of what they must do to carve out a niche for themselves in a global market.

Anne Posthuma, International Labour Office

The way they’ve been working in the past cannot continue in the future, the kind of competition they’re facing forces them to find new solutions and that means upgrading.

ILO surveys show that going upmarket to produce less, but very high-quality wood furniture would set Indonesia apart from its competitors. Improving working conditions and attracting young people to work in the industry are ways to ensure the survival, not only of a precious natural resource, but of a treasured national skill.