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Is your new dining chair made of illegal wood?

 

There’s no chance that here in the UK, high street stores could sell you products made of illegally-sourced wood, right? If they did, they’d be brought to task, surely?

That’s what was intended when the EU Timber Regulation came into force two years ago. At last legislation was in place to prevent illegally logged timber from being sold in the EU. At the time we were delighted about it – it was a great result after nearly ten years of campaigning by us and other NGOs.

However, small print in the legislation means that a huge array of wood-based products are not covered by the regulation, including printed materials, chairs, musical instruments, clocks, toys, DIY tools and much, much more. So this means that our high street retailers can still sell any of these products to you without having to check if the wood has been logged legally.

FSC wood furniture © Katrin Havia / WWF-FinlandFSC wood furniture © Katrin Havia / WWF-Finland

That didn’t sound good enough to us. But we wanted to assess whether it is really a problem. So we set out to see whether there might be problems in the supply chain for these sorts of products. We bought a selection of items not covered by the regulation from UK stores whose websites did not have good information on their policy on legal or sustainable timber, and sent them off for analysis to see if they were made of the wood that the retailer declared they were made from. Our theory was that if there was a mismatch, then the retailer really hadn’t done its homework on the source of the wood.

While we were waiting for the results from the labs, we contacted each retailer and asked them to confirm what kind of wood the product contained and where it was grown, and any evidence they had that it was from a legal or sustainable source.

The next bit surprised us. Almost across the board, we simply couldn’t get the information we asked for. Of 17 companies we approached, only one produced any documentation – and that was in Chinese.  Three others provided information on the type of wood but only on the country of manufacture, not provenance, and not whether it was legally or sustainably sourced – and the rest either ignored us, replied but didn’t give us any information, or worst of all, told us categorically they weren’t going to.

When the timber results came through, we found seven companies were selling products made of what we consider to be high-risk timber – either from tropical regions or from the Russian Far East: areas that experience high rates of illegal logging. We sent each of these companies the results and let them know our concerns. At this point, most companies did at least express concern, two of which – Cargo Homeshop and Dunelm – have been in further dialogue with us on the problems and what action is required.

Two of the companies – well-known brand names in their sectors, Fender and Oak Furniture Land – reassured us that they had the necessary systems in place but were still unwilling to share specific information about the products we tested. Since they have no information about this subject on their websites or on the products we bought, we don’t feel reassured.  How can we, as shoppers, know that their products are not contributing to illegal logging or deforestation?

So, when you are next shopping for something made from wood, whether it’s solid wood furniture or paper products like greeting cards, look for products marked with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo. This ensures the wood comes from a well-managed forest. Alternatively, look for the recycled logo.

If you’re unsure – then why not ask? A responsible company will be able to provide a robust explanation either in the store or via online customer services. The more people that ask where the wood in the products they buy is from, the more likely it is that businesses will take the issue seriously.

As part of our Forest Campaign, we’re working with nearly 40 businesses that have stepped up to do the right thing for forests, permanently. They have pledged to buy from legal and sustainable sources and are helping us push for a market in sustainable timber. At the same time we’re also putting pressure on companies that we don’t think are pulling their weight.

Baby orang-utan © Edward Parker / WWFBaby orang-utan © Edward Parker / WWF

Can you help us?

Every single voice counts in achieving change together. Please join our “Voice of the Forest” action and ask a question to a company that we think should be doing more.

Read the full report about our research into timber testing

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