Ikea is the largest consumer of timber from Ukraine, a country whose lush forests are one of the last strongholds for large European mammals like bear, bison, lynx and wolf. Over 18 months, Earthsight has gone on the trail to investigate Ikea’s Ukrainian timber purchases, tracing some of Ikea’s most iconic products from shelves to their forest source.
In July 2018, Earthsight released the findings of a previous investigation on illegal logging in Ukraine that showed state-owned forests were suffering from an epidemic of illegality. Forty percent of the €1 billion of wood being shipped to the EU each year was suspect. At the center of the problem was Ukraine’s State Agency of Forest Resources (SAFR). In a troubling conflict of interest, the SAFR is responsible for both protecting Ukraine’s forests and extracting timber from them. Earthsight found that it was steeped in corruption.
Inspections by Ukraine’s State Environmental Inspectorate (SEI) confirmed Velyky Bychkiv SFE had illegally licensed ‘sanitary’ felling on more than a hundred sites from April to June 2018. For several weeks over this period, such logging is banned by Ukrainian wildlife laws because of their importance to breeding animals. Lynx and several endangered bird species have been identified in Velyky Bychkiv’s forests and depend on the relief from logging that the silence period provides to raise their young.
Earthsight found that more than half of the saleable wood harvested in the SFE during this time was illegal. Data obtained by Earthsight shows the SFE carried on illegal sanitary logging at the same rate during the silence periods in 2019 and in 2020. And it turns out this is far from the only illegality common in these forests.
SFE had failed to conduct required environmental impact assessments before logging on several sites, and allowed the logging of healthy trees under the pretext they were diseased – a common ruse in Ukraine which has allowed harvests to massively exceed levels determined to be sustainable. Evidence of further breaches of regulations during harvesting was also detected, such as cutting outside prescribed boundaries and polluting streams.