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Ikea accused of deforestation

Ikea accused of deforestation in Romania. 4% of Ikea’s wood, its primary material originates from Romania, one of the richest European countries in natural forests. Romania has long had a major problem of illegal deforestation.

According to an investigation by the Romanian environmental organization Agent Green, Ikea also committed irregularities in the management of Romanian forests, and obtained advantages from the illegal timber market.  In 2019, the Romanian timber industry was worth 1.4 billion euros.

Ikea accused of deforestation in Romania
Forest in Romania attending risk of deforestation

“Based on collected evidence, Agent Green is able to conclude that IKEA engages in forestry practices where minimum exigence is required from its employees and subcontractors operating on their properties to the detriment of the environment, communities and natural protected areas. Some of destruction is being perpetrated inside or in the vicinity of EU designated Natura 2000 sites that are meant to be protected under EU directives. Even more worrying IKEA is currently disregarding the EU Biodiversity and Forest strategies for 2030. These strategies call for strict protection of all remaining primary and old growth forests. Instead IKEA appears to be actively seeking out old growth forests on its property for logging before any strict protection can be implemented by law “, states the introduction to the report.

Al Jazeera report on timber mafia in Romania

According to environmental groups and journalistic investigations, the fact that so far no authority or control body has confirmed the allegations against Ikea would depend on the difficulty of proving those allegations: that is, proving that certain lots of timber were obtained from illegally cut trees, given that when the wood is taken away from the forest from which it comes, it is impossible to reconstruct its origin. A further difficulty would arise from some particular Romanian laws, which allow companies in the sector to move in large gray areas.

Like other countries in Eastern Europe, Romania has a large amount of primary forests, because in the years of the communist regime the forests were nationalized and mostly left intact. With the end of communism (1989), and even more so with Romania’s entry into the European Union (2007), which led to greater trade links with the European economy, things changed: many forests were sold to private individuals and they became an important resource to be exploited, abundant and cheap: in particular for the furniture industry, since beech and fir trees, which are very common in Romania, are particularly used.IKEA owns around 50.000 hectares of forest in Romania, making it the single largest private forest owner company, therefore with a large social responsibility.

Illegal logging is widespread: according to an analysis carried out by Greenpeace Romania in 2018, between 2013 and 2018 38.6 million cubic meters of wood were taken from the country’s forests, double what was authorized.

Gabriel Paun, founder of Agent Green, told Al Jazeera that there have been more than 650 attacks in recent years, by illegal loggers against environmentalists, government officers and forest guards. One of the most recent occurred in 2021 against three people who were working to shoot a documentary on the subject.

Doina Pana, former Minister of Water and Forests, claims she was poisoned with mercury in 2017 after trying to tackle illegal logging.

Ikea has never been involved in the violence cases, but is accused of using illegally obtained wood and being part of the largest system of forest overexploitation.

The most relevant accusation concerns forests located in the Ukrainian Carpathians, not far from the border with Romania: according to an investigation by the British environmental organization Earthsight, between 2018 and 2020 timber obtained illegally by the VGSM company would have been sold both to Ikea directly and to Plimob, a Romanian company which has been contracted for the production of chairs for Ikea for many years.

Ikea defended itself by saying that both an internal investigation and a conduct by third party inspectors found no evidence that abusive timber was used in its supply chain. However, he admitted that Ukrainian laws on felling sick or storm-damaged trees allow for interpretations of universe: in short, there would be a gray area.

Other Romanian suppliers of Ikea, Egger and Kronospan, have also been accused of importing and using illegally obtained timber.

Like Plimob and VGSM, these companies have FSC certification provided by the Forest Stewardship Council, a rather well-known international non-governmental organization that should ensure that a product made using wood comes from “responsibly” managed forests. The Forest Stewardship Council has existed since 1993 and has Ikea among its founders, which states that today more than 98 percent of the wood it uses is FSC certified.

FSC, however, has always been criticized by environmentalists for providing certifications and confirmations based on scheduled inspections done by third-party companies that are paid for by the lumber companies. In essence, it would not be a truly reliable body for verifying the methods of the timber industry, especially in countries where forest management laws are more lax or leave room for interpretation.

The other big accusation against Ikea concerns the forests that the Swedish company itself owns in Romania. In fact, starting from 2015 it bought nearly 50,000 hectares (500 square kilometers) of woods and is today the largest private owner of forest land in the country. Ikea does not use its Romanian forests to produce wood for itself, but allows its partial exploitation to companies that sell firewood, which is still widely used in Romania to heat houses.

Agent Green has visited the Romanian forests of Ikea several times and believes that various violations of the law have been committed, making excessive cuts. Ikea would authorize the felling of trees over 120 years old because they would have less commercial value, not taking into account the value that older trees of some species have for the entire forest ecosystem. According to FSC, however, no irregularities were committed.

The demand for wood from Ikea is so high and the illegal exploitation of Romanian forests is so vast that it is difficult to believe that all the wood used by the company was obtained legally, even if it is difficult to prove it.

Ikea has responded to the most recent allegations by denying it is purchasing illegally obtained timber. “We have developed a comprehensive due diligence system, with many levels of scrutiny,” a company spokesperson told Business Insider. of forestry that carries out more than 200 inspections per year and external auditors who check what is happening in our supply chain, with particular attention to countries with a high risk of abuse ».

Speaking about Romania, Ikea commented, «It is a country that continues to face some challenges regarding forestry practices and we are committed to using our presence to improve the situation».