A new Earthsight investigation unpacks Ikea's latest illegal timber problem
Many items in this IKEA display are made by an Indonesian firm which is using suspect Russian timber.
London, 15 July 2021 – Ikea has for years sold children’s furniture made from wood linked to vast illegal logging in protected Russian forests, an Earthsight investigation has found.
Ikea’s House of Horrors exposes how the retail giant sourced pine from a group of companies guilty of illegally logging some four million trees in the climate-critical forests of Siberia over the past decade.
The timber was certified as legal and sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the global green scheme for wood, and shipped to an Indonesian manufacturer which supplies Ikea stores around the world, including in the US, UK, Germany, France and other European countries.
The popular Sundvik children’s range – which includes chairs, tables, beds and wardrobes – and the Flisat doll’s house are among the items likely tainted with illegal Russian wood, the report found.
Earthsight estimates that shoppers have been purchasing an Ikea product containing the suspect Russian lumber somewhere on earth every two minutes.
Siberia’s forests store as much carbon as the Brazilian Amazon. Yet the report found that the logging firms supplying Ikea and other retailers are contributing to huge biodiversity loss in the region, and leaving it increasingly prone to devastating wildfires.
The findings are the result of a year-long investigation involving undercover meetings, visits to logging sites, satellite imagery analysis and scrutiny of official documents, court records and customs data.
At the centre of the scandal is long-time Ikea supplier Evgeny Bakurov.
A multi-millionaire with powerful political ties, Bakurov has supplied Ikea with pine for over a decade via his ExportLes group of forestry firms in Siberia’s Irkutsk Oblast province. “We chose your company because you send logs faster than we can transfer the money,” he claimed the Swedish retailer once told him.
The report reveals how the ExportLes logs sent to make Ikea furniture were connected to numerous breaches of forestry and environmental laws.
Bakurov’s logging firms were discovered to have cleared more forest than allowed, logged protected forest zones within their leases under the false pretext that trees were diseased, and illegally stripped miles of shorelines crucial for fish spawning and erosion and flood control. Failing to clear up logging debris or replant as required, they had left a dangerous, ravaged tinderbox prone to fire in their wake.
Court documents reveal that 11 illegal amendments were made to logging leases issued to ExportLes companies between 2012 and 2018. The illegal lease changes allowed an additional 689,000 cubic metres of timber to be harvested – that’s enough to fill London’s Royal Albert Hall nearly eight times.
Logging sites included several areas of FSC-certified forest – the type relied upon by Ikea to source supposedly sustainable pine. Yet the investigation found illegalities rife in such areas. In 2019, 86 per cent of timber cut in Bakurov’s FSC concessions came from illegal sanitary logging, the report found.
It is estimated that Bakurov’s companies sourced 2.16 million cubic metres of wood from protected forests over the last 10 years. Piled high, the logs produced would rival the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Despite the widespread violations being a matter of public record, FSC continued to certify Bakurov’s forests, and greenwashed lumber continued to flow into Ikea’s factories for years. Passing into the supply chains of some of Siberia’s biggest wood processing firms, it has also contaminated a large part of Europe’s wider imports from the region.
The report traced the suspect Siberian pine to a local timber processing firm called Uspekh which in turn supplies Indonesian furniture manufacturer PT Karya Sutarindo (PTKS).
PTKS supplied more than 2.2 million items of children’s furniture to Ikea with a retail value of $60 million last year, customs records show. The report calculated that the remains of roughly 1,700 Russian trees, nearly all of them supplied by Bakurov and many illegally logged, arrive at PTKS each month.
Almost half of PTKS’s Ikea exports last year were EU-bound, with another 20 per cent going to the US. The report also found Bakurov supplying Ikea via Chinese and Russian suppliers.
Ikea and other retailers rely on FSC’s auditors to help ensure their wood is legally sourced, but the report’s findings provide further evidence that their trust in the green label is wildly misplaced.
Earthsight has caught Ikea selling illegal wood laundered by FSC before. Both the furniture retailer and the wood watchdog ignored important lessons from last year’s Flatpacked Forests exposé linking them to illegal logging in Ukraine and, until they reform, are doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes.
The report adds that the EU and US governments must enforce timber import laws more rigorously to address their roles in driving deforestation overseas.
Ikea confirmed being supplied by Bakurov in its response to Earthsight, but maintained the wood was “legally harvested”. Citing unspecified “practices of concern”, the company told Earthsight in June that it dropped his companies as suppliers sometime in spring of this year. Responding to our findings in advance of their publication, in late June Ikea announced it was also temporarily banning the use of sanitary felled wood from the Russia Far East and Siberia. FSC, meanwhile, denied wrongdoing but nevertheless abruptly terminated Bakurov’s certificate eight days after being alerted to Earthsight's evidence, without explanation.
Earthsight director Sam Lawson said: “We welcome the actions Ikea and FSC have taken in recent weeks since our findings, but they don’t go anything like far enough.
“These are systemic problems, requiring systemic solutions, which go beyond one buyer, one supplier or one country. Governments in Europe and the US need to act urgently to stem the flow of stolen wood once and for all.”
Notes to editors:
- Earthsight is a UK-based non-profit organisation that uses in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption.
- All companies named deny wrongdoing. See the report for a full summary of responses.
- Trade data detailing the supply chain from Russia to Indonesia and on to Ikea is available as are images of relevant Ikea products and broadcast-quality footage and photographs of the illegally cleared forests in Russia.
- Earthsight identified at least a dozen Ikea products potentially tainted with the suspect wood.
- Ikea used 1.9 million cubic metres of Russian logs in 2019, almost double that of five years earlier. The volume represents at least a million felled trees. Russia is Ikea’s second-largest source of wood after Poland.
- Figures contained in Ikea’s annual report suggest the company’s total sales of children’s products were in excess of €3.2bn last year.
- Evgeny Bakurov’s companies control 13 forest leases with a combined area of more than 220,000 hectares (the size of Greater London). Half (51 per cent) of this area – 112,000 hectares – lies in protected forests.
- ExportLes Deputy Director Vadim Kovalevsky told undercover Earthsight researchers in April 2021 that the firm continued to supply Ikea, including via the timber processing firm Uspekh, through Ikea suppliers in China and Ikea factories in Russia. Uspekh’s director told undercover researchers that Uspekh sources Bakurov wood and has been supplying Ikea manufacturers for six years.
- The Irkutsk arbitration court found 11 illegal amendments to logging leases for five Bakurov companies were issued between 2012 and 2018. The deals broke forestry laws by allowing an additional 689,000 cubic metres of timber to be harvested over a short period of time, far more than the roughly 90,000 cubic metres per year allowed originally.
- Illegal sanitary logging is the practice of felling trees under the false pretext that they are dead, dying, diseased or otherwise damaged.
- Information has been publicly available in court records and local press regarding the allegations of illegalities by Bakurov’s companies since 2014 for his wider group and 2018 for his FSC-certified company, yet went unmentioned in FSC reports. FSC denies wrongdoing, but shortly after being alerted to our findings Bakurov’s certificate was abruptly terminated on 15 Jun 2021.
- The report found that in total European firms import at least €170 million a year in wood products tainted with illegal logs from Bakurov’s operations. EU imports of wood-derived products from Russia are up 42 per cent in the last decade, nearing €3 billion per year.
- Studies show increased logging activity in the Russian Far East and Siberia has also led to more frequent fires. Timber harvesting and logging roads further fragments forests and makes any blazes more intense.
- The EU Timber Regulation and US Lacey Act ban illegal wood from overseas and force importers to carry out due diligence into their supplies.
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