16 April 2024, 01:35
By Furniture News Oct 20, 2015

WWF slams Oak Furniture Land over lack of transparency

Oak Furniture Land is one of several companies which fails to provide publicly-available information on sustainable sourcing, meaning that customers cannot be sure of where the wood in the furniture they are buying is coming from, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Since finding oak from the Russian Far East – an area which experiences high levels of illegal logging – in one of Oak Furniture Land’s products, the WWF has been trying to gain evidence from the company on whether the wood for its furniture comes from legal and sustainable sources. Despite repeated approaches, direct action from almost 7500 members of the public and a 'zero' score in WWF’s first Timber Scorecard in July 2015, the company has not shown that it has taken any steps towards publishing either a policy on where it sources its timber, or figures that indicate timber is coming from well-managed forests – however, the retailer has pledged to publish its sourcing policy in the coming weeks.

The aim of the Timber Scorecard is to encourage companies to commit to robust sourcing standards that ensure their products do not contribute to deforestation, and improve transparency on the source of their timber. This in turn would help customers choose sustainably, in the same way that labelling on the provenance of eggs and chicken is now commonplace and expected.

The ‘zero trees’ score is given to those companies that are failing to tell customers if their products are made from sustainable timber, and therefore could be at risk of selling products that are contributing to deforestation. Like Oak Furniture Land, another 41 companies also still scored ‘zero trees’, particularly within the furniture, musical instrument and toy retailing sectors.

The furniture sector was highlighted in the original Timber Scorecard report release as performing poorly on its policies on timber sourcing. Since the Scorecard’s release, Debenhams and House of Fraser (which both scored only ‘one tree’) have also not taken any steps to become more transparent.

Julia Young, manager of WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network programme in the UK, comments: “Lack of transparency is unacceptable in an age of ongoing forest loss. How can companies think it is fine to continue like this, telling customers they are responsible and should be trusted, but not sharing any policy or performance information to back it up? It seems Oak Furniture Land, for example, is disregarding timber sustainability, despite relying on timber for their business success. Right now, we don’t know if the wood it uses is sourced from well-managed forests or not – and nor do its millions of customers.

“We have tried to engage with the company, and others that use wood in their products, to help them address this, as consumers tell us they expect companies to lead the way on this issue. Oak Furniture Land’s lack of progress is hugely disappointing, and 10 others in the furniture sector so far are equally slow to improve. They could follow the lead of Furniture Village or Dunelm, both of whom confirmed the need to do more to demonstrate sourcing policy and performance, and have made progress since the Scorecard was first published.”

Oak Furniture Land responds: "Oak Furniture Land are very grateful for the input of the WWF on this very complex matter and assure all that we take our obligations to source products that are sourced from well managed forests and legally harvested, very seriously indeed.

"As a business fully committed to sourcing all timber and timber products from legal sources, we are fully aware of our obligations and requirements to comply with all aspects of the EU Timber Regulation. Where possible we ensure our suppliers provide us with clear evidence of good forest management practice at the original source, and give preference to those suppliers who can provide such evidence. We always require suppliers or potential suppliers provide us with full timber supply chain of custody documentation which is subjected to our strict and rigorous in-house due diligence and risk assessment system. Where customer demand dictates that we procure timber from areas of greater risk, our approach is to only work with suppliers who can demonstrate full timber chain of custody documentation which in turn is rigorously checked not only in house but also by independent outside sources.

"Oak Furniture Land acknowledges the importance of auditable independent certification throughout the supply chain process and has introduced relevant schemes where appropriate to the business. We are firmly committed to a stepped approach, through the risk assessment of products by species, country and supplier, to the sourcing of timber from legal and where appropriate well-managed sources. This includes the elimination of timber species recognised as endangered, using references including CITIES & the IUCN Red list.

"We also conduct regular on site visits to our overseas suppliers and work with them to ensure they comply with our strict code of conduct to reinforce the knowledge that we only procuring products that derive from legal sources. Should any supplier not adhere to our code of conduct we move supply base immediately.

"As a major UK retailer of solid hardwood products we are fully confident in our own systems which are constantly evolving and directed to all aspects of our supply chain. We firmly believe this fully demonstrates that in all circumstances we ensure we procure products from legal and well-managed sources. As a business we have chosen to work with parties other than the WWF on this matter, nevertheless this does not mean that we are not fully compliant and committed to doing all we can to ensure we know where the wood in our products derive from. Indeed, we fully support the WWF campaign to bring ‘out of scope’ wood-based products such as seats within the scope of the EU Timber Regulation.

"We can confirm that plans are already in place to publish our sourcing policy in the coming weeks as part of our ongoing programme of upgrades to our website which currently undergoing a major review."

WWF’s Timber Scorecard is part of its forest campaign which has successfully galvanised business action on responsible forest trade. The update, issued today, shows that 23 companies have taken action to improve their ranking since July – for example by revisiting their policies on sustainable timber, making them clearer and publicly available, and releasing figures on the proportion of timber sourced from certified sources (for example, those with FSC certification).

The timber scorecard measures the quality of publicly available information on companies’ responsible timber procurement policy, and progress on achieving them. As indicated when the original Scorecard was published, during September 2015 the WWF undertook a review of any new or additional information sent by companies since the scorecard was published in July 2015. 36 companies sent information for this review, of which 19 had not previously been in contact with WWF regarding the Timber Scorecard. Of the 36 companies which submitted information, 23 have increased their scores, including Dunelm, Feather & Black, Furniture Village, John Lewis Partnership, Tesco and James Latham. Zero trees were awarded to Dreams, Harrods, Jansen International UK and The Sofa Workshop.

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