Is your IKEA table made of illegally obtained Romanian wood?

By Stefan.

Romania is covered on 28.6% of its surface with forest. This sums up to 66.000 squared km, or 1.5 times the size of the Netherlands (its entire surface is only 41.543 squared km).

The non-profit organization WWF estimates that 250.000 ha are virgin forests (untouched for more than 500 years). Specialists place Romania as a direct competitor to the Amazon or to Congo, as this Eastern European beauty is home to 60% of Europe’s remaining virgin forests, by far the largest share of any EU country.

You can read more about the biodiversity in Romania’s forests here. And you can hike among the old trees, as Reismenië offers all the necessary information on hiking routes, accommodation and activities. If you don’t know enough about Romania to start exploring its mountains, perhaps our Kennismakingstour is a good introduction.

Forest - Iulian Suciu

After more purchases in the summer of 2016, IKEA now ownes 46.700 ha of forests in Romania. This is the short explanation of why I’m not a big fan of this.

A recent investigation uncovered the history of IKEA’s purchases. The company is the largest private owner of Romanian forests. The forest areas now owned by IKEA, were bought from Harvard University’s investment fund. Harvard initially purchased the forests from local intermediaries that Romanian prosecutors have since charged with corruption and organized crime activities or who are under investigation.

In easy terms, this is what happened: most of Romania’s forests were on public land and some were on private land. The communism regime that came to power in the late 40s took all the private lands to be administered by the state. Thus all forests were public until 1989, when Ceausescu and the communist regime were taken down. After 1989 all the lands that used to be private before communism had to be returned to their previous private owners, if they asked for it.

Corrupt politicians and private business men took advantage. They asked for land back, with false documents and fake relatives. Lands that have always been public even before communism, were illegally ‘restituted’ to corrupt private parties. They took advantage of missing ownership papers from before the communist regime. Restitution of forests was full of fraud and some investigations led to arrests, even in the Romanian royal family.

These thiefs quickly sold the forest for millions of euro to foreign investors. Harvard started buying in 2004, despite knowing the corrupt history of the restitution program. But there has been an increase in anti-corruption activity in Romania, and there are efforts to regain the lost forests into public hands. Harvard probably got scared by some of the investigations and legal trials started by the Romanian state and decided to sell everything.

All kinds of offshore companies were involved in the transaction between Harvard and IKEA in 2014, when IKEA bought 98% of Harvard’s Romanian forests.

Now we cannot know for sure, but even furniture made of certified wood could come from forests that were obtained illegally. Does it matter then that the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified IKEA and its wood? Not really. The forest was meant to stay intact and the local ecosystem preserved.