follow us

Gibson and Lacey: Round II

September 19, 2011

Arrogance of federal power. That's what Gibson's CEO Henry Juszkiewicz recently called the second raid on the company's factories in Tennessee by federal law enforcement officials enforcing new Lacey Act wood provisions passed in 2008.

Juszkiewicz has suggested Gibson is the target of a political witch hunt.

The politics of the Lacey Act amendments should have played out before the amendments were passed by Congress. At that time green awareness was peaking. Remember $4 gas?

It would have been tricky in 2008 for the guitar maker to have taken a strongly negative position on the Lacey Act amendments, especially since many of us were putting so much stock in a green revolution.

At the time, it was good business and good marketing.

Gibson for many years had touted its work with the certified wood promoter the Rainforest Alliance, and that organization was part of its defense in the latest raid, even though Forest Stewardship Council certification isn't a silver bullet for Lacey legality.

Now is more of an ideal time for Gibson to take a position against the amendments. Unemployment hovers around 10% and the odds of a double-dip recession are growing. Politics are absurdly polarized and it's easy to wage a public relations war against the federal government.

In times like these, government is an easy target.

The force used to exercise the warrant may have seemed excessive, but the raid was legal. I would imagine federal agents execute search warrants for the U.S. Department of Justice all the time.

And I would guess those agents, wisely, carry guns. Is that excessive?

The agents had a signed warrant from a federal magistrate judge in Tennessee and had cause - the illegal wood Gibson was using came into the U.S. under the wrong Harmonized Tariff Schedule code that classifies imported merchandise. That may constitute smuggling by the importer. 

The ability of federal agents to pull a needle out of the container haystack that is our nation's ports makes me sleep a little better at night, especially on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

All industries lament regulation. If the furniture industry could ignore regulation we could probably move the industry back to the U.S.

Why aren't we hearing from the tens of thousands or more companies that have to make the same declarations as Gibson on wood species? That combined voice could really say something. Is it because even though they might not like the new rules, they believe it is advisable to respect them?

Yes, you are innocent until proven guilty. But, this is the second raid in two years for illegal timber at Gibson. If you nab somebody twice for something in a relatively short amount of time the presumption of innocence in the public eye becomes a little thinner. That's just human nature.

If it were a small furniture importer, I bet they'd do their best to try to come to some agreement or settlement so that this issue wouldn't destroy their business - not come out guns blazing portraying themselves as the victim.

Gibson didn't indicate its intentions to work with the DOJ in anything I've read.

Doesn't it seem as if the original 2009 raid would have served as the starting point for reviewing your wood sourcing? Especially for a well-known brand that should know the liability parameters of the rule?

The law is unwieldy and from what I gather, the delays in adding more HTS codes by the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service signals it trying to make customs declarations under the rule easier.

Globally, complicated problems have complicated solutions and illegal logging has supported governments and movements that have no regard for humanity.

Opium trade has supported the Taliban. Illegal logging has in the past supported secretive regimes like the Khmer Rouge, or the former Burmese military junta, which in 2008 resisted Cyclone Nargis aid and relief efforts - a catastrophe that resulted in more than 100,000 dead.

Arrogance is thinking complicated problems will disappear on their own.