23 Jun 2020

From Chainsaw to Chair – IKEA’s illegally sourced furniture

Some of IKEA’s most recognisable products, the Ingolf, the Henriksdal and the folding Terje chair have been made from illegally felled beech trees from one of Europe’s last great forests, a Channel 4 News investigation has found.


Some of IKEA’s most recognisable products, the Ingolf, the Henriksdal and the folding Terje chair have been made from illegally felled beech trees from one of Europe’s last great forests, a Channel 4 News investigation has found.

The Carpathian mountains are vital habitat for some of Europe’s rarest wildlife, home to thousands of brown bears as well as wolves and Eurasian lynx. They’re also a source of beech timber for the Swedish furniture giant IKEA.

The company claims to be the largest producer of wood furniture in the world, and they are one of the largest consumers of timber. IKEA declares it loves wood and the forests it comes from, and that all the timber used in its wooden furniture is harvested legally, without damaging the environment.

But an investigation by Channel 4 News with the environmental NGO Earthsight has revealed that IKEA’s suppliers in Ukraine have committed multiple violations of the country’s forestry and environmental laws.

Ukraine’s State Environmental Inspectorate found that in one area alone 109 forestry sites were illegally felled during what’s known as the silence period – ten weeks in the spring when wild animals are breeding and raising their young.

10 of those sites were felled by a company called VGSM, who sell 96% of their product into the IKEA supply chain. During the silence period in 2018, enough trees were chopped down to produce over a quarter of a million of IKEA’s Terje chairs.

Logging during the silence period was not the only violation. On another site Channel 4 News found that loggers failed to conduct the legally required Environmental Impact Assessment before clear cutting the site. They had also broken the law by blocking waterways with discarded logs and branches.

VGSM sources 90% of its timber from the Velyky Bychkiv state forestry enterprise where these violations were recorded. The company then processes the timber before shipping parts over the border to Plimob, a factory in Romania which principally supplies IKEA.

In 2018, Plimob manufactured around 1.5 million Terje chairs for Ikea, as well as Ingolf, Henriksdal and Nornas chairs.

IKEA say they are investigating the allegations and that all their Ukrainian products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Many of these breaches were documented by Ukrainian authorities, and local forestry officials interviewed for the program say it’s not clear why no action was taken.

Yuriy Soyma, the Chief Forester of the Velyky Bychkiv State Forestry Enterprise, did not deny that Environmental Inspectors had found multiple breaches of the law. But he told us:  “The environmental inspectors have all the necessary powers to issue fines if they discover any violations when they do scheduled and unscheduled inspections. It’s not clear why having this information they have not done so.”

Channel 4 News put the allegations to Irina Matsepura, the managing director of VGSM. She told us: “We always harvest only legal timber and we have a confirmation document for every cubic metre of timber. IKEA buys only FSC certified wood and accordingly we can prove every cubic metre of timber with source documents.”

Earthsight’s director Sam Lawson says the FSC certification process is itself flawed.

“We’ve seen illegal wood, human rights abuses, corruption all around the world, involving FSC certified companies. And so what IKEA needs to do using its clout as the biggest buyer of FSC wood, is get FSC to change, make it better.’’

Channel 4 News presented its evidence to Ikea. The company says it has launched an investigation into the findings.

“We have initiated an independent audit of our wood supply chain in Ukraine. We have also asked Assurance Services International (ASI) – who are FSC’s independent auditor – to investigate the report’s allegations.”

“We do not accept any illegally logged wood in our products. If we encounter any information that suggests wood which does not meet our requirements has entered our supply chain, we take immediate action. This includes the termination of suppliers’ contracts.”

The Forestry Stewardship Council, which certifies that logging is carried out in a sustainable way, also said it would investigate the allegations.

“FSC is fully aware of the difficult environment in Ukraine, where the country shows many of the problems typically prevalent in emerging economies. Issues such as corruption, law enforcement failures and social transformation difficulties are a substantial reason behind many forestry management problems in the country.”

“Whenever illicit acts by certificate holders are identified or reported, they are investigated, and if proven to be substantiated, the certificate is suspended or terminated. In extreme cases, the certificate holder is expelled completely from the FSC system.”

Plimob, the main purchaser of timber from VGSM, said it too would investigate.

“It is against our values and principles to use illegally sourced wood.We always work to secure that all our actions and our co-workers actions are made according to the law of the countries we work in.”

“We fully comply to the national and international forestry laws and our own code-of-conduct. Meeting FSC standard is an essential part of our business.”

Directed by Jeremy Bristow.