Timber sourcing policy unclear

15th November 2016

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Katherine Middleton

More than two thirds of furniture retailers have no published policy or other credible sourcing information for the timber used in their products, or have policies but provide no performance data, research for WWF has found.

Of 74 UK furniture retailers assessed by the campaign group, 39 could not be rated (53%), as they had not made even the most basic reference to responsible sourcing. These include brands such as DFS, Sofa Workshop, Habitat, Dreams, Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

A further 11 brands (15%) made only incidental reference to timber sourcing. This group included Laura Ashley, made.com, Oak Furnitureland and Next. Although these retailers had some knowledge of responsible timber sourcing issues they had failed to pursue credible policies or to communicate effectively what they are doing, WWF concluded.

The low number of retailers disclosing such information suggests that they do not see the need for responsible sourcing of timber, said WWF.

The research by the conservation NGO identified ten retailers that had scored a maximum rating and are near compliant with their sourcing policies. These were mostly the big consumer brands, such as supermarkets (Sainsbury’s, M&S, the Co-operative and Waitrose) and DIY chains (B&Q and Wickes). They also include four specialist retailers – Magnet, Warren Evans, Alexander Rose and Office Depot.

Julia Young, global forest and trade network manager for WWF, said some retailers that had been identified as performing poorly by previous research had still not acted sufficiently. ‘Furniture retailers need to understand the nature of their trade better, and appreciate the role they can play in making sure it is sustainable for forests. Retailers can not only reduce these risks but also enhance their reputation by engaging with the issue and by publishing and pursuing a credible timber sourcing policy,’ she said.

WWF is particularly worried about the 59% of finished furniture the UK imports from outside the EU, particularly if the products do not fall within the scope of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR). China provides 42% of all UK furniture imports, followed by Italy (15%), Poland (10%), Vietnam (8%) and Germany (7%).

However, WWF said the import partner is not necessarily the timber’s country of origin. It found that only 42% of the oak used in furniture from Poland originated from the EU, with more than half from Ukraine and some from Bosnia and Russia.

Furniture imported from high-risk countries with recognised illegal logging and trade issues including China, Vietnam, Brazil and Indonesia, is valued at €1.9 bn.

WWF’s report makes several recommendations for furniture retailers, including:

  • publishing a responsible timber sourcing policy;
  • providing supplier guidance notes or training to ensure that all supply chain participants are aware of requirements;
  • obtaining third-party verification such as Forest Stewardship Council;
  • communicating policies to all stakeholders; and
  • seeking support from suppliers, industry bodies, environmental groups and competitors to help source responsibly.

Habitat, Harrods, and Harvey Nichols were contacted for comment but none had been received at the time of publishing this article.

Meanwhile, a trader of teak from Myanmar, Almträ Nordic, has been prosecuted under the EUTR, which bans placing illegal or high-risk wood on the EU market.

An investigation by the Swedish Forest Agency found a firm in Sweden was unable to demonstrate the origin of timber it had purchased from a supplier, the state-operated Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE). It has received an injunction preventing it from placing the wood on the EU market unless it can identify and mitigate the high risks of illegality involved, in accordance with EUTR due diligence requirements.

The campaign group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has reported nine teak traders for similar offences across five European countries. EIA forest campaigner Peter Cooper said that the Swedish case set a precedent for all member states in enforcing the EUTR: ‘The EIA now expects to see EUTR rulings equivalent to that imposed in Sweden in all nine cases we have submitted. This is a key test of Europe’s resolve to enforce a piece of environmental legislation central to EU forests and climate policy.’


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