BONN, Germany - The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) says it severed ties to the Austrian timber giant Holzindustrie Schweighofer, one of its largest members, citing "persistent and indiscriminate sourcing of illegal timber in Romania."
The decision, announced February 17, 2017 at FSC's website, follows a year-long investigation by an FSC Expert Panel, which concluded that Schweighofer had created a business culture favoring cheap wood over legal wood in its Romanian sourcing. FSC, which certifies chain of custody in wood supply, is based in Bonn, Germany.
“Europe’s last great forest is under threat due to illegal logging, and Schweighofer has been the main culprit,” said Alexander von Bismarck, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency. “With this decision, FSC is taking concrete action to avoid certifying trade in stolen wood.”
The decision by the FSC’s Board of Directors reverses the Board’s decision in December to let Schweighofer continue using the FSC’s logo during a period of probation. Following that decision, EIA published results of a follow-up investigation that showed Schweighofer continuing to receive illegal wood. A broad spectrum of NGOs, including EIA, WWF, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth protested FSC’s decision to only put the company on probation. An online petition, calling for the FSC to disassociate from Schweighofer, garnered 250,000 signatories in Romania, Germany, and Austria. The Romanian group De-clic delivered the petitions to FSC’s headquarters in Bonn and urged the Board “to take the right decision and stop endorsing corruption in Romania and stop endorsing illegal logging.”
The FSC Panel’s year-long investigation produced a 110-page report in December 2016, concluding that Schweighofer had purchased illegal timber, sourced logs cut on land stolen from local communities, developed a bonus system that encourages illegal logging, and had an inadequate due diligence system to avoid illegal timber purchases. The Panel recommended that the FSC disassociate itself from Schweighofer until the company can meet a long list of conditions. Chief among these being that the company can trace all its log purchases back to the forest stand.
Schweighofer sells sawn lumber, laminated timber, and pellets to clients around the globe, including Japan, the United States and the European Union. In 2016, supermarket chain SPAR Austria and the German DIY retailer Hornbach stopped selling Schweighofer products. EIA’s investigations have identified Schweighofer’s key customers in Europe and Japan.
“Schweighofer’s remaining customers must now decide whether they want to continue knowingly buying illegal timber and fueling the destruction of Europe’s last old growth forests,” said von Bismarck.
The FSC’s comprehensive investigation responded to a complaint by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) Germany, which was based significantly on the findings published by EIA in the October 2015 report Stealing the Last Forest. In April 2015, EIA had released an undercover video showing Schweighofer’s main sourcing officials in Romania repeatedly accepting offers of illegal wood.
A new investigation conducted by EIA in September 2016 shows that Schweighofer continues to buy and sell illegal wood. In a series of short videos, EIA documents illegalities linked to trucks that investigators witnessed delivering logs to Schweighofer’s Romanian sawmills.
Illegal logging in Romania is closely tied to the country’s ongoing struggle against endemic corruption. Hundreds of thousands of Romanians have protested in recent weeks to ensure the new government doesn’t backtrack in this fight.
The Romanian government has taken groundbreaking action towards increasing forest sector transparency and law enforcement, by creating a new website which allows public tracking of timber shipments and logging activities, by raising penalties for illegalities and by restructuring the forest law enforcement department.
“Romania has taken amazing steps over the last two years to help expose what’s happening in the forest, giving hope for a sustainable future,” said von Bismarck. “Now it’s absolutely critical for Romania to build on that progress.”