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Ikea, FSC actions on Siberia illegal logging scandal are a start. In our climate crisis, they must do much more

06.09.2021

Swedish retail giant and green timber label have moved to address problem of illegal sanitary felling in eastern Russia, but their measures must go further

Earthsight’s latest investigation laid bare once more the problems facing the world’s largest wood buyer and the world’s foremost green timber label.

Ikea’s House of Horrors revealed how children’s furniture sold by the global retailer was linked to vast illegal logging in the boreal forests of eastern Russia. It found that suspect Siberian pine, supplied by companies responsible for illegally clearing four million trees, had entered Ikea’s supply chain for more than a decade.

A follow-up to last year’s Flatpacked Forests investigation, we showed again the failings of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in identifying and acting on illegal practices by its members. Such structural failings have been lamented by NGOs for years, most recently in a Greenpeace report published earlier this year.

The findings drew international media coverage including from The Times, Der Spiegel, NBC News, Tagesschau and Russia’s Novaya Gazeta

In the weeks prior to publishing, Ikea confirmed they had dropped companies affiliated to Evgeny Bakurov as suppliers sometime in Spring this year, due to ‘practices of concern’ on part of the companies concerned. The company has not responded to Earthsight’s email asking for more details of when they dropped this supplier or what exactly these unspecified practices of concern were. After receiving Earthsight’s right-of-reply letter in late June, Ikea announced a temporary ban on wood from sanitary logging – the felling of diseased or dying trees and a practice beset with widespread illegalities – in the Russian Far East and Siberia.

Ikea has also committed to increasing third party as well as its own audits of suppliers in high-risk regions. While we welcome this move, we are concerned about the quality of such audits. To avoid the worst risks in its supply chains any audits commissioned or undertaken by Ikea would need to go far beyond checking official documents and relying on assurances given by its suppliers or FSC auditors. They would need to involve truly independent verification of the legality of all harvesting activities by those suppliers by periodically checking court records, making regular site visits and using satellite imagery among other steps.

For its part, the FSC terminated the certification of Bakurov’s firm, without explanation. Then on the day the report was released, even as rampant forest fires raged in Siberia, they issued a moratorium on all sales of wood and wood products originating from sanitary logging in the Siberian region that was the focus of our report. The FSC claimed that this move was unrelated to our report’s findings.

Despite the bans, terminations and dismissals, the actions of Ikea and FSC, while welcomed, do not go anywhere like far enough. 

An area of protected Siberian forest illegally logged by ExportLes, a group of companies found in Ikea's supply chain. Credit: Earthsight

If they want to avoid yet more scandals in future, they must do more. Ikea must go beyond sanctions limited just to sanitary felled wood from eastern Russia and dropping one supplier. The FSC, whose cuddly tree-tick label adorns everyday products worldwide, must instigate serious reform. 

Governments will meet in Glasgow later this year at the next highly anticipated climate summit - a year that has already seen record breaking temperatures, large scale wildfires, flooding and other extreme weather events. It has never been more important for the biggest corporations in the world to be accountable for their actions. Recycling schemes and increased audits are a start, but it’s not good enough to ward off the worst effects of climate change. 

Russian regions like Siberia are already dangerously close to reaching a tipping point. Irresponsible logging practices have been identified as a big driver of climate crippling forest fires that have been occurring there in consecutive years. As the single biggest user of wood on the planet, and the best-known consumer label for wood globally, Ikea and FSC must decide if they will lead from the front or be vilified for inaction by future generations.

Acting on the asks below would be a great start. In taking such steps, they will demonstrate their commitment to helping end illegal logging practices, ensuring sustainability schemes are truly effective and cleaning up global supply chains.

Our full recommendations to them and authorities in Russia, the EU and US can be read here

The report showed how Ikea had sourced from companies guilty of illegally logging four million trees in Siberia's climate-critical forests over the past decade. Credit: Earthsight

Forest Stewardship Council

  1. Set up an independent review panel. An independent body is crucial to allow for non-biased interrogations of the illegalities Earthsight uncovered in Russia and other FSC scandals identified worldwide. Such a panel should have the ability to make recommendations for changes to core systems and procedures including both immediate and longer-term changes that require approval of FSC members.
  2. Strengthen auditing process. Auditors are used by the FSC to inspect member firms around the world and to identify irregular and illegal practices being committed. However, they are failing. We call on FSC to require auditors to regularly use satellite imagery when conducting audits, review relevant publicly available court documents, conduct regular searches of relevant media articles about a company, its owners and related corporate entities.
  3. Remove conflicts of interest. Auditors who inspect logging site and forest leases of FS members are paid directly by the very companies they are auditing. This is creating a race to the bottom in standards and leaves the process exposed to malpractice.
  4. Transparency and source-to-shelf tracing. As a consumer-facing label, a much more open approach is needed. It must allow for true source-to-shelf tracing by adopting a compulsory and transparent transaction verification system which will be mandatory for all users of FSC.. Requiring the publication of summaries of Chain of Custody (CoC) audits and ‘headquarters’ audits of accredited certifiers, as well as FM/COC audits will also increase transparency of FSC and allow for greater scrutiny of its actions.
  5. Shift burden of proof. The FSC should amend the burden of proof with regard to serious illegalities, with a precautionary approach taken to such risks in keeping with the EU Timber Regulation.

Earthsight's 2020 report Flatpacked Forests exposed illegal logging links to Ikea furniture and the FSC in Ukraine. Credit: Earthsight

Ikea

  1. Independent investigation. Ikea must commission an independent audit of its wider purchasing in Russia, to include inspections of FSC certified supplier forests, with a particular focus on compliance with sanitary felling rules. To be truly independent, it is essential that any such audit is not conducted by an FSC certifying body. To be credible, an audit should include representatives of NGOs or NGO experts, including those who have shown themselves willing to be critical of FSC in the past.
  2. Expand sanitary wood ban. Its recently announced ban on the use of sanitary-felled timber from the RFE and Siberia should be expanded to all of Russia.
  3. Improved audits. Ikea must amend its own audit procedures of suppliers to ensure they address the current flaws in FSC assessments, and publish these revised audit procedures.
  4. Demand FSC action. It should take a stand by acknowledging that the repeated failings by FSC are symptomatic of deep-seated structural problems and committing to work to ensure that FSC addresses these problems as a matter of urgency
  5. Climate commitments. Ikea must publicly commit to a timebound plan to first eliminate all sourcing of wood from relatively intact natural forests, then eliminate all wood from any natural forests, and ultimately source all wood from recycled sources.

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