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romania / ukraine

Environmentalists criticise timber companies

Article by Gerd Ebner (translated by Eva Guzely) | 19.07.2018 - 09:13

Today, the WWF holds a press conference in Vienna. The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) faces heavy criticism because it allegedly does not prevent the use of wood from illegal sources by importing companies.

The NGO Earthsight claims to have proof for the involvement of big European companies (namely Egger, Schweighofer, Swiss-Krono) in the destruction of ancient Ukrainian forests and in the payment of bribes to Ukrainian officials. Allegedly, 40% of timber exports arriving in EU-countries have been harvested or traded illegally. Quoting the Earthsight report, the Ukrainian weekly newspaper Kyiv Post speaks of numerous violations even with FSC-certified logs.

Egger responds to Earthsight’s accusations by claiming that the company promotes measures which aim at reducing the risk of using illegal wood and that it counts on the support of local authorities and European institutions for more rigorous controls.

In a response, Holzindustrie Schweighofer clarifies that the company always acted in line with EUTR directives. From 2012 to 2016, it “imported 3.5 million m³ of softwood logs to Romania in compliance with all laws”. With the Ukrainian moratorium on exports coming into force in November 2015, imports were stopped. At the moment, only sawn timber from 16 different Ukrainian suppliers is bought.

To the knowledge of Timber-Online, Swiss-Krono has not issued a statement as of yet.

The Austrian news magazine Profil also quotes Earthsight’s report saying that Holzindustrie Schweighofer supposedly paid money to Viktor Sivets, head of the Ukrainian National Forestry Agency and tennis partner of former President Viktor Jaunkowitsch. In turn, the company received “logs below the market price”.

The same article also publishes Holzindustrie Schweighofer’s sharp response: “We reject all accusations regarding bribes in the strongest terms as well as being held responsible for alleged criminal acts in a state, when our company could actually be the victim of such acts.”

The NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) also criticises all three Austrian timber companies for their wood buying practices in Romania, especially for the lack of transparency in log purchases via third parties and their log yards. The EIA admits that this is legal according to Romanian law. Nonetheless, the possibility of wood being harvested in national parks and sold to timber processing companies cannot be excluded with these indirect purchases.