Earthsight exposes Ikea’s illegal logging links

23.06.2020

Flatpacked Forests uncovers illegal timber in Ikea supply chains. Photo: Shutterstock

  • Suppliers in Ukraine sourced illegal wood for Ikea products on sale across the world, including in the UK, US and Germany
  • Loggers broke environmental laws over years – even during Covid-19 lockdown
  • Ikea launches probe following Earthsight’s findings
  • Meanwhile, scandal-hit FSC green label watchdog fails to pounce on lawbreakers
  • World’s largest furniture retailer consumes one tree every second to meet global demand

London, 23 June 2020 – An Earthsight investigation published today reveals how Ikea’s fast-furniture empire has been propped up with illegal timber used to make some of its most popular products. 

Flatpacked Forests: Ikea’s Illegal Timber Problem and the Flawed Green Label Behind It has found the world’s largest furniture retailer to be selling thousands of chairs and other items linked to illicit tree felling in Ukraine.

Using official files, on-the-ground reporting, satellite imagery and whistleblower accounts, the London-based NGO followed supplies of suspect wood from Ukraine’s Carpathian forests to stores in the UK, US, Germany and elsewhere.

Ikea, which denies wrongdoing, launched an investigation into Earthsight’s findings and said it will contact the Ukrainian government regarding necessary actions.

The Carpathian Mountains, home to Europe’s last remaining lynx and brown bears, are being illegally deforested by firms supplying timber for many of Ikea’s most popular chairs, including the bargain basement folding Terje, bestselling Ingolf dining chair and the Börje, Ekedalen, Norrnas and Henriksdal seats.

Earthsight documented rampant lawbreaking enabled by the state forestry enterprises running Ukraine’s forests. Breaches included logging without the required environmental impact assessments, foresters cutting beyond licensed boundaries and unjustified clearances on health grounds.

Ukrainian furniture manufacturer VGSM, a major Ikea supplier, is linked to many of the illegalities.  VGSM produces Börje beech chairs for direct export to Ikea in the UK and Poland, and also sells raw beech, oak and ash to an Ikea factory. Most exports, however, are unfinished Ikea furniture and beech processed across the border in Romania by another Ikea supplier, Plimob.

Federal inspectors found that Velyky Bychkiv state forestry enterprise (SFE), which supplies VGSM, broke the law when issuing logging permits, resulting in widespread illegal forest clearances. The permits enabled firms to log during ‘silence periods’ – months each year when certain logging is prohibited under Ukraine law.   

They identified 109 sites of illegal logging in 2018. Earthsight discovered that VGSM was the logging contractor for 10 of these locations, encompassing almost a quarter of the total beech harvested. Beech trees accounted for three-fifths (60 per cent) of the timber cut – the same material in Ikea chairs. A week after the 2018 silence period ended, shipments totalling 38 tonnes of Ikea Terje beech chair parts – enough for over 12,000 chairs – left VGSM to Plimob, to be finished and distributed to stores.

Illegal felling persisted in 2019 and 2020. Demand for cheap wood was so great that chainsaws continued to roar through the prohibited silence period during the Covid-19 lockdown in April.

VGSM buys three-quarters (75 per cent) of all beech cut in Velyky Bychkiv SFE. Nearly all (96 per cent) of its beech production goes to Ikea direct or via Plimob. Plimob sends Ikea two million chairs each year, half of which could be made from Ukrainian wood.

Records obtained by Earthsight reveal that VGSM sends Plimob enough wood parts to make 600,000 Ikea chairs annually, plus enough raw beech for an additional 400,000 Terje chairs. Combined, that is enough seats to fill London’s Wembley Stadium more than 10 times.

VGSM has also purchased timber from 16 other SFEs in the last four years. Of these, Earthsight is aware of evidence of illegalities in 14.

In Flatpacked Forests, Earthsight estimates that Ikea consumes one tree every second to meet global demand for its furniture – an appetite that unscrupulous firms are eager to feed.

The report reveals how suspect Ukrainian wood has made its way into many other Ikea products, including cheap chipboard shelving and furniture. This likely includes wood linked to high-level bribes paid during the reign of Ukraine’s deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych.

To stop illegal and unsustainably harvested wood slipping into its supply chain, Ikea mainly relies on the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the world’s leading green labelling system for timber. But Earthsight’s findings show the certification body is failing to protect forests, both in Ukraine and worldwide.

The Ikea products Earthsight traced were all made with FSC-certified wood. Whistleblowers in Ukraine told Earthsight of cosy relations between auditors and corrupt bosses, and how easy it was to pull the wool over their eyes. Information on lawbreaking by Ikea’s supplier of beech chairs, published by state authorities in 2018, went unnoticed.

From Brazil to the Congo, FSC-certified firms have been embroiled in various environmental and human rights abuses. For years, NGOs have warned of structural flaws in FSC systems, including blatant conflicts of interest, which remain unaddressed. Activists claim that by ‘greenwashing’ suspect wood and paper products, FSC undermines efforts to tackle the illegal timber trade.

Sam Lawson, Earthsight director, said: “As the world’s largest wood buyer, Ikea has a unique power to help save forests worldwide. Yet our findings show the brand is piling pressure on suppliers to keep costs low, then relying on a green label with known flaws to ensure they won’t cut corners.”

Petro Testov, of Ukrainian NGO Environment-People-Law and report contributor, said: “FSC has fallen slave to commercial interests. Large timber and furniture brands like Ikea and others must speak up and use their influence to bring the FSC into the 21st century. In the meantime, buyers of FSC-certified products should know their purchases may be driving the destruction of intact and biodiverse forests seen almost nowhere else in Europe.”

Notes for 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 in Earthsight’s report deny wrongdoing. See the report for a full summary of responses. Images of products on sale at Ikea stores are available
  • 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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