IKEA’s Ukrainian illegal timber problem. That FSC didn’t notice…

Earthsight recently published the results of an 18-month long investigation into illegal logging in Ukraine. Earthsight’s report reveals that IKEA is selling chairs made from beech wood that was illegally logged in the Ukrainian Carpathians. IKEA products involved include the Terje chair and the Ingolf dining chair.

Sam Lawson, director of Earthsight, told Mongabay that,

“In this case, VGSM, the company that was supplying these chairs and chair parts to Ikea is cutting some of the trees itself, but it’s doing so under illegally issued licenses issued by the State Forestry Enterprise that controls the forest.”

IKEA is the largest consumer of wood in the world. Earthsight estimates that Ikea consumes one tree every second. IKEA’s consumption of wood has doubled in the last decade. Ikea relies heavily on timber from Eastern Europe and Russia to meet its ever increasing demand. Every year, Ikea uses 2 million more trees than the previous year.

Channel 4 News produced a 14 minute video on IKEA’s illegal timber problem:

IKEA is the largest consumer of timber from Ukraine. All of IKEA’s wood from Ukraine is FSC-certified. Yet FSC audits failed to uncover any problems.

Earthsight’s report explains how this could happen:

In October 2019, an experienced forester from an FSC-­certified Carpathian enterprise told Earthsight of just how cosy the relationship between FSC auditors and senior officials of the state logging companies they inspect can be. He said once the formalities of the “dog and pony show” inspection were completed, the auditors and SFE leadership would retire to a summerhouse in the woods to party on alcohol, meat skewers and spicy ‘bogracz’ stew. Even where auditors are intent on doing their job, the same whistleblower confirmed how easily SFE officials can hoodwink them.

Earthsight found rampant illegal logging in the beech forests of Velyky Bychkiv. Ukraine’s State Environmental Inspectorate (SEI) confirmed that Velyky Bychkiv state forestry enterprise had illegally licensed ‘sanitary’ felling on more than 100 sites from April to June 2018. Such logging is banned by Ukrainian wildlife laws for several weeks during this period, because of the importance of the forests to breeding animals, including lynx and endangered bird species.

Earthsight found that more than half of the saleable wood logged in Velyky Bychkiv during this period was illegal. The State Forestry Enterprise carried on logging at the same rate during the silence periods in 2019 and in 2020.

The State Forestry Enterprise also failed to carry out environmental impact assessments before logging on several sites. It also logged healthy trees, claiming that they were diseased. And it logged outside prescribed boundaries and polluted streams.

VGSM, a Ukrainian furniture and timber company, carried out much of the illegal logging. VGSM sells wood to Plimob, a Romanian furniture firm, which in turn sells to IKEA. VGSM is one of the largest Ukrainian suppliers to IKEA. Earthsight found that wood from VGSM is used in a wide range of IKEA products. IKEA sells up to two million chairs containing wood from VGSM every year.

Wood from Ukraine also ends up in IKEA melamine coated woodchip boards. Earthsight uncovered illegal logging and illegal timber in this supply chain too.

IKEA’s response? “IKEA does not accept illegally logged wood in our products.” And IKEA is asking FSC to carry out an audit.

So, having utterly failed to notice that timber carrying an FSC label was actually illegally logged, FSC, the toothless watchdog, is going to carry out an audit. What could possibly go wrong?

Rather than welcoming Earthsight’s detailed research, that clearly exposes serious problems in IKEA’s supply chain, FSC’s director general Kim Carstensen is busy trying to paper over the cracks. “This legislation is not clear, therefore the interpretation is not clear,” Carstensen told the Guardian.

Carstensen told Mongabay that FSC’s interpretation of the law was different to Earthsight’s. “According to FSC standards, the company was not violating the law and was in compliance with FSC standards.”

But Carstensen admitted to the Guardian that, “It is likely that some of the logging is illegal.” That, by the way, is the head of FSC admitting that FSC-certified wood is “likely” to be illegal.

IKEA’s flat-packed, fast furniture business model and its never-ending growth are inherently unsustainable. By greenwashing IKEA’s overconsumption of wood, FSC is complicit in the destruction of Ukraine’s and the world’s forests.

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