Karelia, Russia – These forests of pine, spruce and birch trees on Russia’s north-west frontier with Finland stretch in every direction to the horizon. When the sun shines, the dazzling green is fragmented by lakes of sky-blue water.
Yet the impact of humankind is everywhere. Tracks criss-cross the woodland, accommodating logging vehicles – diggers with robotic chainsaws and trailer trucks. At road intersections, ribbons tied around trees signpost areas earmarked for clearing.
Swedwood Karelia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Swedish furniture giant IKEA, owns a logging concession of around 300,000 hectares here. Its factory on the edge of the town of Kostomuksha processes logs into planks. Eventually, they will end up as flat-packs in hundreds of IKEA’s stores worldwide.
Swedwood is active in the Karelia Forest, one of the
last old-growth forests in Europe [Yulia Shcherbina/Al Jazeera]
For IKEA, Russia is a prime territory for expansion. Not only are two of its top three globally performing stores located in Moscow, but the country’s vast boreal or taiga forest belt is a source of high-quality timber.
Yet IKEA’s logging in Karelia has raised uncomfortable questions about its reputation for sourcing sustainable wood. And attention has also brought into focus wider problems associated with commercial forestry in northern Europe and Russia.
In April, environmental NGOs held protests outside eight IKEA stores in Sweden to raise awareness of a study conducted into IKEA’s activities in Karelia by Protect the Forest and Friends of the Earth Sweden.
The NGOs claim that IKEA, through Swedwood, is helping to destroy ecosystems that are home to endangered species by clear-cutting already depleted old-growth forests.