Supermarket giant Tesco has been disowned by environmental group WWF for selling furniture made of illegal hardwood from an endangered Indonesian rainforest.
For the past eight years the retailer had been a member of the 95+ Group, a scheme set up by WWF for businesses committed to protecting rainforests. Members promised to try to buy timber from legal and environmentally sustainable sources.
A month ago, however, Tesco admitted to selling garden chairs and tables made from hardwoods from the Indonesian rainforest. Its admission came after an investigation by Friends of the Earth uncovered evidence of the illegal trade. Logs had been illegally exported from Indonesia to furniture manufacturers in Vietnam .
“Tesco’s actions have shown that it does not take the issue of buying wood products from responsibly managed sources seriously,” said Rachel Hembery, manager of the 95+ Group. “The 95+ Group has endeavoured to work with Tesco to overcome the problems it faces when buying wood products, but the supermarket’s unco-operative behaviour leaves WWF no choice but to terminate its membership.”
However, a spokesman for Tesco disputed WWF’s claims. “We are at a loss to understand why WWF is unwilling to work with us on what is a shared objective,” he said.
“We understood that the purpose of the WWF 95+ Group is to work with retailers to facilitate where possible sourcing from well managed, independently certified forests. This support is clearly not available.”
Tesco had worked hard on improving its sourcing of wood products for next year, the spokesman said, adding: “We have been trying to arrange a meeting with WWF to demonstrate the progress we have made and our commitment to the principle of phasing out all potentially illegal sources of wood. So far WWF has refused to meet with us.”
Hembery, however, pointed out they had agreed to meet only if Tesco answered the key questions about its timber supply – but it had not done so. “Tesco fails to understand the issues and is not committed to the aims of the group,” she said. WWF is now tightening up the rules that govern membership of the 95+ Group by asking members to sign up to a series of new commitments on timber supply by August 22. Any that don’t risk expulsion, like Tesco.
But the row with Tesco has also prompted demands from other environmentalists for WWF to end its lucrative business partnership with the French multinational Lafarge. The company is behind plans for a controversial super quarry on the Isle of Harris, and runs the Blue Circle cement works at Dunbar in East Lothian, one of Scotland’s top 10 polluters.
Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomed the expulsion of Tesco as a long overdue exposure of corporate “greenwash”, but pointed out that Lafarge had twice been fined by the European Commission for operating illegal international price-fixing cartels. “WWF must apply the same ethical standards to all its partnerships with companies,” said Friends of the Earth chief executive Duncan McLaren. “That Lafarge supports WWF to the tune of £3.5 million must not distort the picture.”
He continued: “ The next move for WWF must be to cut out other ‘dead wood’ companies such as Lafarge from its partnerships.”
But the response from a WWF spokesman yesterday was enigmatic. “We have flexed our muscles on Tesco. We are continuing to apply pressure on Lafarge, the outcome of which is yet to be seen.”