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IKEA in the spotlight: Flatpack furniture linked to ‘systematic destruction’ of Romanian forests

Logs by the forest road in Ingka-owned forest in Bistricioara, Ceahlău, Neamț County.
Logs by the forest road in Ingka-owned forest in Bistricioara, Ceahlău, Neamț County. Copyright Bruno Manser Fonds/Agent Green
Copyright Bruno Manser Fonds/Agent Green
By Charlie Jaay
Published on Updated
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Greenpeace campaigners say the company’s suppliers are benefitting from a corrupt environment in the country.

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IKEA has been accused of contributing to the rapid deterioration of Romania’s biologically rich forests.

Two recent investigations reveal the impact of the flatpack furniture giant on the country’s Carpathian mountains, one of Europe’s largest remaining areas of primary and old growth forests. 

According to a Greenpeace report, more than 50 per cent of Romania’s ancient forests have disappeared in the past 20 years, due to corruption and poor law enforcement. 

A new report from the NGO details the role that IKEA and the Ingka Group, its largest franchisee, have played in this plundering - some of which has taken place in supposedly protected areas.

Why are Romania’s forests under threat?

Around 3,000 square kilometres of Romania's forests are protected by European laws as Natura 2000 sites. 

But Romania’s multi-billion euro timber industry - with the so-called ‘wood mafia’ at its heart - is plagued by systemic corruption and poor law enforcement. Logging and irresponsible forestry practices threaten the remaining forest.

In 2019, leaked data from a government report revealed that almost 40 million cubic metres of wood are cut from the country’s forests each year, half of which is illegally harvested.

A lizard in Romania's biodiverse Carpathian forests.
A lizard in Romania's biodiverse Carpathian forests.Greenpeace

In 2020, the European Commission began infringement proceedings against the Romanian government after NGOs complained it was failing to address the extensive logging of virgin forests within its protected Natura 2000 areas. 

The Commission also threatened to send the case to the European Court of Justice but, as yet, this has not happened.

“Despite some improvements and warnings from the European Commission, Romania continues to fail to uphold its legal duty to properly protect the EU’s last large remaining primary and old growth forests,” says Agata Syfraniuk, lead wildlife lawyer at environmental charity ClientEarth. 

“If the Commission does not escalate Romania’s clear disregard of EU nature laws before the EU’s highest court, the future of these important forests looks dire,” she adds.

IKEA linked to 50 suspected violations of EU and Romanian legislation

Environmental organisations Agent Green and the Bruno Manser Fonds researched nine forest areas. Seven of these were owned by Ingka Group and two were public forest lands linked to IKEA’s supply chain. 

Their April report, ‘IKEA: Smart Outside, Rotten Inside’, details at least 50 suspected violations of EU or Romanian legislation, and poor forest management practices. 

These include clear-cutting biodiverse woodlands, exceeding allowed maximum extracted wood volume, and failing to preserve trees high in biodiversity such as old oak, beech and dead wood.  

A cleared area near Vecerd, Sibiu County, Romania - in a forest feeding IKEA's supply chain.
A cleared area near Vecerd, Sibiu County, Romania - in a forest feeding IKEA's supply chain.Bruno Manser Fonds/Agent Green

All forests investigated, including protected areas, had undergone intensive commercial logging, causing severe degradation of soil and ecosystems.

The researchers looked at the types of forest management in every Ingka Investment property in Romania, and found only about one per cent of the total area was strictly protected. About eight per cent were partially protected, and more than 90 per cent were managed for industrial wood production, irrespective of whether they overlapped with Natura 2000 protected sites, according to the report.

Greenpeace ties IKEA’s suppliers to the destruction of old growth forests

In a separate investigation, Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) visited Romania’s old growth forests to examine IKEA’s supply chains. 

Its report, ‘Assemble the Truth: Old Growth Forest Destruction in the Romanian Carpathians’, claims that at least seven suppliers for IKEA’s leading wood products were linked to the “systematic destruction” of old growth forests, including two Natura 2000 protected sites. 

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At least 30 products from these furniture manufacturers were traced to IKEA stores in 13 countries, includingFrance, Germany, and the UK.

A production unit in Sighetu Marmației, Romania, linked by Greenpeace to IKEA.
A production unit in Sighetu Marmației, Romania, linked by Greenpeace to IKEA.Greenpeace

Ingka and Inter IKEA Group - the franchisor responsible for IKEA’s supply chain - strongly dispute all the claims from both investigations.

Ingka Group said “authorities found no evidence of non-compliance with forestry regulations”, and that its practices are “aligned with rigorous environmental standards set by national laws and international certification bodies like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).” 

Inter IKEA Group said it does not accept wood from protected old growth forests, stating “the sourcing practices outlined in the Greenpeace report are legal and adhere to local and EU regulations.”

The environmental campaigners claim their evidence is robust, so what is the explanation?

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How are IKEA’s suppliers getting away with ‘rotten’ forest management?

“IKEA doesn’t make mention of the context in which they are working, and this is key,” says Ines Gavrilut, Eastern Europe Campaigner at Bruno Manser Fonds.

“Everyone knows Romania is rife with corruption. Things might look legal on paper, but investigations on the ground found clear evidence of degradation and destruction,” she claims.  

“It’s no coincidence IKEA has invested heavily in buying forest here, because it opens up enormous possibilities for logging.”

Some forest campaigners feel IKEA is hiding behind the FSC, a certification scheme they claim is failing to protect old growth forests. 

Simon Counsell, an independent researcher and former director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, helped set up the FSC in the early 1990s, so consumers could see which paper and wood products were sustainably sourced. But Counsell became critical of the certification scheme, believing it had flaws. 

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“It’s been known for years that the FSC doesn't guarantee wood is coming from environmentally or socially acceptable sources, and is merely greenwashing wood and paper products.

“It has refused to tackle the many underlying problems in its system, especially the serious conflict of interest whereby the certification audit companies are paid directly by the logging companies they are supposed to be assessing. There is no excuse for companies like IKEA to pretend the FSC guarantees their wood comes from acceptable sources.”

In response, FSC claims it does not allow bad actors to be part of the system, and deploys safeguards, including independent audits, to ensure rigorous standards are followed.

“Any unacceptable activities, by a certificate holder or company in its corporate group, results in the opening of public investigations that can lead to remediation or even expulsion from the FSC system,” it says.

FSC also notes that there are varying definitions for old growth forests - which lead to different interpretations of how to identify and preserve them exactly. 

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What counts as an old growth forest?

The Romanian definition is currently much stricter than the European Commission’s proposed definition.

“IKEA wants the strictest possible definition of old growth forests, so they aren’t protected and can be opened up for intensive logging - as is happening now,” claims Gavrilut.

There are other areas of contention too. The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy and Forest Strategy for 2030 currently act only as guidelines, and are not legally binding at the EU level.

“Our most biodiversity rich areas, such as the Carpathian forests, are supposed to be protected, according to the targets set in theEU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030,” says Špela Bandelj Ruiz, biodiversity campaigner at Greenpeace CEE. “However, while these targets remain only words on paper, Europe's richest ecosystems are disappearing.”

“Only with legally binding EU laws in place, to protect and restore nature, will companies like IKEA not be stuck in this problem of contributing to the destruction of European nature heritage, such as in Romanian Carpathians, in the future,” she adds.

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‘Fast furniture business model’

IKEA’s ‘fast furniture’ business model is booming, meanwhile. 

Last year, the company had almost 500 stores operating in more than 60 countries, generating around €50 billion. 

In 2019, IKEA consumed one tree every second, according to non-profit Earthsight - and it continues to expand, owning over 2,800 square kilometres of forest worldwide. More than 500 square kilometres are in Romania, making it the country’s largest private landowner.

Romania’s forests, which are biodiversity hotspots, are vanishing rapidly. But it is not too late to save them.

“First, Ingka and IKEA need to admit wrongdoing, so we can have constructive dialogue,” says Gavrilut. “They set trends for the whole industry and have a lot of weight. They have the power to do a lot of good.”

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