Ukraine: PROFBUD challenges IKEA and FSC on Illegally sourced wood

(Photo: Earthsight)

Earthsight, a non-profit environmental organization, released an investigative report on “hot wood”, alleging that illegally logged timber from Western Ukraine with certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is being sold through a Romanian intermediary to Swedish multinational IKEA. Both FSC and IKEA have publicly recognized that there are gaps in forestry legislation in Ukraine, however they denied responsibility for putting illegally sourced wood on the European market.  

To make matters worse, the Western Ukraine has just suffered massive flooding which has been attributed to deforestation in the region. Commenting on the situation, Coen van der Veer, BWI Global Director for Wood and Forestry said; “low incomes and poor labour protection for forestry workers in Ukraine is linked to the poor application of the standards and in the end the credibility of the certification, affecting the environment. We call up on IKEA and FSC to take their values and principles seriously, applying this to worker rights to address intimidation that is reported by Earthsight. Illegal logging is unsustainable for people and the environment”.    

BWI also interviewed Vasyl Andreyev, President of the Construction and Building Materials Workers Union of Ukraine (PROFBUD), for his response to the report as well as the situation of the forestry sector in the country. 

What did you think of the Earthsight report?

The Illegal logging detailed in the report is an ongoing problem in Ukraine that civil society groups have consistently campaigned against on many occasions. There is also corruption in the country’s wood and forestry sectors are corrupted and some cases are even tied to the “wood mafia.” This may also account for why the sectors are very poorly organized and trade unions have limited access to workers. So I am not really surprised by the report but I am, however, surprised with the responses issued by IKEA and FSC on this controversy. 

What part of the responses from FSC and IKEA surprised you?  

FSC is allowing certification of companies that are using loopholes and then FCS denying responsibility for poor practices when the gaps in Ukrainian forestry legislation are well known and controversial.  IKEA said that they will investigate the situation and if they find evidence of illegal logging, they would take an action. I don’t buy these arguments. There is a clear evidence of a natural disaster in the West of Ukraine because of deforestation. FSC certifies timber in this region and IKEA buys timber from this region. I believe, these facts speak for themselves and there is no need for additional investigation.  IKEA needs to take action now and stop buying illegally sourced wood from Ukraine.


Can you tell us about this disaster in Western Ukraine?

With heavy summer rain at least 3 people died, 14 500 houses were lost and hundreds of kilometers of roads and many bridges were destroyed in the worst flooding in over 50 years. Experts say that illegal logging and deforestation as well as climate change are to blame for the devastation. This is another blow for our economy already suffering from the impact of COVID-19. The report links wood in some IKEA products to alleged illegal logging on mountain peaks in the Carpathians and the mass deforestation of this region correlates to the floods. 

What actions should FSC and IKEA take going forward? 

I believe that FSC and IKEA have enough due diligence in sustainable forestry. It is time to use this due diligence as a force for good; they can help Ukraine to overcome the consequences of the disaster and protect our forests.  Also, timber does not walk out of forest by itself, it is harvested by workers. I know that people in the West of Ukraine are very concerned about their forests, but as workers they must follow orders from their employers, they either cut down these trees lose their incomes. Therefore, it is important for FSC and IKEA to also investigate whether labour standards and rights are upheld in the governance chain and value chain they are respectively engaging with in Ukraine.