Romania is home to some of the last old growth forests in all of Europe.
Now that the Forest Stewardship Council has cut ties with Holzindustrie Schweighofer over illegal activities in Romania and three of Europe’s largest DIY chains have dropped the company from their suppliers, why is the PEFC still covering up for the Austrian timber giant?
The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, or PEFC, is a certification system for wood and paper products which bills itself as the “world’s leading forest organization.” PEFC certifies around 300 million hectares of forest worldwide, the largest area of forests by any certifying body. The organization has struggled for years to defend itself against criticism for its weak standards. The case of one of its largest members, the Austrian timber giant Holzindustrie Schweighofer (Schweighofer) provides the most recent example of PEFC’s inability – or unwillingness – to act against a member company in the face of clear and undeniable evidence of extensive sourcing of illegal timber.
Schweighofer is one of the largest timber processors in Europe and the largest in Romania. The Austrian company has invested heavily in Romania since 2002, transforming the country’s softwood resources into sawn lumber, laminated panels, and pellets largely for export to Japan, the Middle East, and Europe. However, the company’s business model in Romania, where it buys from over 1,000 individual suppliers each year, continues to fuel widespread illegal logging and corruption in the country’s forest sector, with severe consequences for Romania’s threatened old growth forests, wildlife, and for the long-term viability of the Romanian forest products industry. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), as well as journalists in Romania and elsewhere, have written extensively about Schweighofer’s illegal activities in Romania in recent years. The company’s primary defense has been its PEFC certification, which it claims “guarantees” the absence of illegal timber in its supply chain.(1)