A stunning news report suggests IKEA is heavily entangled in a “delirium of deforestation” that is ravaging much of the last of Europe’s old-growth forests in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains.
Geographic isolation and decades of communist rule kept the country’s timber off the global export market, so Romania’s Carpathian Mountains today contain “at least half of Europe’s remaining old growth outside Scandinavia and around 70% of the continent’s virgin forest,” writes The New Republic. Now, the Swedish furniture giant is “hungry for Romania’s famed trees,” and “little stands in its way.”
Romania’s entry into the European Union in 2007 “created a massive, liberated market for the country’s cheap, abundant timber and the inexpensive labor required to extract it.” the news story states. These conditions encouraged Austrian timber companies and Swedish furniture firms to set up shop there.
Things have steadily worsened, as “ineffectual regimes enacted further pro-market reforms and did little to curb corruption,” New Republic explains. “In the final months of 2021, the country’s prime minister designate found himself unable to form a government at all.”
Add to this “the astronomical growth of the fast furniture industry,” which particularly relies on the spruce and beech that populate these forests, and the result has been a “delirium of deforestation”.
As the largest individual consumer of timber in the world, and sourcing up to 10% of its wood from Romania, IKEA is an outsized player in this destruction, New Republic says. The company maintains close relationships with mills and manufacturers, especially in the northern part of the country, where much of the deforestation is taking place.
In 2015, the Swedish multinational began buying up forestland in bulk, and “within months it became, and remains, Romania’s largest private landowner.”
Citing a 2018 report, “initially suppressed by the Romanian government and leaked later that year,” New Republic writes that “the country saw 38.6 million cubic metres of wood exit its forests annually during the preceding four-year period.” But the government had licenced just 18.5 million cubic meters for harvest.
Overall, “between half and two-thirds of the country’s virgin forest has been lost” since Romania joined the EU.
More than half of Romania’s timber has been illegally harvested, the news story states, and with the illegality came violence. Listing just three of the most notorious instances, New Republic writes that in 2015, the year IKEA first began to buy up huge swathes of old-growth forest, Romanian environmentalist Gabriel Paun “was beaten unconscious by loggers in an ambush caught on camera.” After fleeing the country, Paun spent years living in hiding. A former minister of waters and forests, Doina Pana, announced two years later that her efforts to crack down on illegal logging had led to her being poisoned with mercury.
Then in late 2019, two forest rangers, Raducu Gorcioaia and Liviu Pop, were murdered in separate attacks within a handful of weeks. Neither of the 2019 cases went to trial and Paun’s attackers, caught on film, remain free. There have been at least 650 other incidents of violence against forest guardians.
“Ikea, meanwhile, sports a sterling reputation for its environmental bona fides,” The exposé notes. According to the company’s website, more than 98% of its timber is sustainably harvested, meaning recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Describing a process of rubber-stamping that suggests the certification is not worth the paper it’s written on, New Republic cites Greenpeace’s 2018 criticism of the FSC as “a tool for forestry and timber extraction.”