Ukraine Prime Minister pledges crackdown on illegal logging after Earthsight exposé

25.06.2020

Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmygal has announced a crackdown on illegal logging in the country. Photo: Shutterstock

London, 25 June 2020 – Earthsight today welcomed the Prime Minister of Ukraine’s pledged crackdown on illegal logging in the country, days after the London-based NGO revealed wood from such activities had entered Ikea’s supply chain.

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal’s announcement on Thursday came the same day environmental officials confirmed that a criminal investigation has been launched into a local forestry body used by the furniture retailer’s suppliers to source illegal wood. 

Denis Kaplunov, first deputy head of the federal State Environmental Inspectorate (SEI), told Earthsight that criminal proceedings are active against the Velyky Bychkiv state forestry enterprise (SFE).

The news follows an Earthsight investigation published on Tuesday which linked the SFE to illegal logging in the country’s Carpathian Mountains, home to endangered lynx and bears.                        

The report, Flatpacked Forests: Ikea’s illegal timber problem and the flawed green label behind it, revealed how illegal wood ended up in best-selling Ikea products sold in stores worldwide. These included the furniture giant’s popular Terje and Ingolf chairs. Products were certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the world’s leading green label for wood.

Speaking to Earthsight, Kaplunov said federal inspectors and local police raided Velyky Bychkiv SFE in mid-June over its logging activities. Inspectors identified “numerous violations” at the forestry enterprise, he added in a Facebook post published on Thursday.

Kaplunov confirmed that illegal ‘sanitary logging’, used to stop the spread of disease and pests, has continued in the area despite inspectors finding illegalities in 2018.

The 2018 inspection found that the SFE broke the law when issuing logging permits, resulting in widespread illegal forest clearances. This enabled firms to cut trees during the breeding season for rare species, when it is banned.

Earthsight’s 18-month investigation revealed that a major Ikea supplier, Ukrainian furniture manufacturer VGSM, was among those issued with illegal licences. Flatpacked Forests also uncovered evidence that the SFE allowed logging breaches to persist in 2019 and 2020.

Flatpacked Forests: Ikea's illegal timber problem and the flawed green label behind it published in June 2020. Photo:: Earthsight

According to Kaplunov, Prime Minister Shmygal asked inspectors to conduct unscheduled checks at Velyky Bychkiv and 230 other enterprises in May. Kaplunov said inspectors arrived on 27 May but were refused entry. This led to them returning in mid-June with police to raid the enterprise.

Efforts are now being made to prosecute the SFE for illegally issued logging permits, Kaplunov said, claiming that such practices were widespread across Ukraine.

Sam Lawson, Earthsight’s director, said: “This is not a case of one rogue actor: illegal logging like this is happening all across Ukraine, spurred by flawed policies. No amount of simple enforcement can solve the problem, so it worries us that the forest agency which needs these changes is still issuing blanket denials.

“There is plenty of risky wood from elsewhere, including even other countries, in Ikea’s supply chains.

“We welcome Ikea’s commitment to an investigation – one that needs to be broad in scope and truly independent for meaningful action. This doesn’t mean one conducted by auditors owned or employed by FSC.” 

Yehor Hrynyk from Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group, a contributor to Earthsight's report, welcomed the news of the ongoing investigation but warned that Velyky Bychkiv was far from being an isolated case.

He said: “Forestry enterprises all over Ukraine suffer from the same problems – illegal sanitary cutting, breaching environmental regulations. Only systemic change can solve this. The fate of our forests hangs in the balance.”

Notes for editors: 

  • Denis Kaplunov, SEI deputy head, said in a Facebook post on Thursday that numerous violations were found following the June visit. He added that SEI has been ‘systematically’ prevented from conducting checks on the SFE forest in the past. He confirmed this and also that a criminal investigation is now open against the SFE in separate correspondence.
  • 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
  • Flatpacked Forests: Ikea’s Illegal Timber Problem and the Flawed Green Label Behind It is available here (Ukrainian-language version here).
  • All companies named in Earthsight’s report deny wrongdoing. See the report for a full summary of responses
  • At least three-fifths (60 per cent) of Ikea’s wood supply comes from Eastern Europe and Russia
  • Ikea consumed 21 million cubic metres of wood in 2019. Sixty per cent of its sales are of wood products. To make them, Earthsight estimates that its factories consume one tree every second
  • As a measure to protect biodiversity, Ukraine’s 2014 Wildlife Law prohibits sanitary logging (the felling of trees on health grounds) between April and 15 June in Ukraine. Earthsight found VGSM had been given illegally issued licenses to log during these ‘silence periods’ in 2018 and 2020
  • International shipment records confirm that VGSM has shipped items directly to Ikea and Ikea-named furniture parts to Plimob almost every month between 2018 and 2020
  • Only some models of Ingolf, Norrnas, Ekedalen and Henriksdal are implicated. Full details available from Earthsight on request. Borje is currently only available in the UK and Poland. VGSM also supplies Gerton beech tabletops direct to Ikea in Poland.
  • The FSC tree-tick symbol adorns millions of wood and paper products around the globe and is supposed to guarantee that products are made from ethically sourced timber. One quarter of all commercial timber harvested worldwide is now FSC-certified.

For more information, please contact: press@earthsight.org.uk  

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