Gibson Guitars Strums to the Tune of $700,000 Settlement

The purchasing team at Gibson Guitars learned the hard way that sourcing ebony wood from Madagascar to make fingerboards would raise eyebrows from environmental watchdogs.
The company has just settled a criminal investigation by the U.S. Dept. of Justice by agreeing to pay $300,000 into a reward pool for whistleblowers and $50,000 for the protection of wood species used in guitars. Gibson also surrendered $347,000 worth of Madagascar ebony that was seized from its offices in a raid by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Gibson’s position on the matter is that it was pleased it wasn’t charged with criminal behavior; the leverage for the settlement was the Lacey Act, a set of laws that prohibit U.S. companies from importing wood that has been cut illegally in the source country. Gibson acknowledged that it had not acted on information that ebony and rosewood it acquired from Madagascar and India may have been illegally harvested.
In a competitive business environment it is tempting to focus on internal purchasing ethics — e.g. detailed policies about meals, gifts and entertainment from suppliers — and not quite so much on external ethics such as complying with foreign laws.
The Lacey Act may not be well known, but it is pretty clear, and that makes it fair game.
The truth is that “out-of-country” is no longer out-of-sight” or “out-of-mind.” Internet and phone technology, global social media apps easily connect passionate individuals to non-governmental watchdog organizations. No one should expect an ethical or legal lapse to “slip by.” Especially on a product that is played onstage by rock and new age guitar stars such as Tak Matsumoto.
By the way, according to Gibson’s website, the Tak Matsumoto Doublecut Custom Ebony now comes with a fingerboard made from “Richlite®, an extremely durable fabricated material composed of cellulose fiber and phenolic resin, (that) offers the look, feel and tone of ebony in a totally sustainable package.”
Lesson learned, there.

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