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Do you care where your wood comes from?

Tree trunk with recycling sign

It’s easy to feel outraged at the suggestion that B&Q and Wickes are selling wood ‘felled illegally from the Borneo rainforest’ – but how much responsibility should we take for checking where our wood comes from?

Imagine you are shopping and you fall in love with a wooden table. It’s the most beautifully-crafted table you’ve ever seen, which would look amazing in your kitchen, and you decide on-the-spot that you must buy it.

Would you automatically think to check where the wood has come from? Would you expect to be able to find this information easily? And how far would you go to verify the information you found?

OK, I haven’t bought many wooden tables recently, but I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t expect I would spend a great deal of time investigating the origins of the wood. And that’s despite having travelled to Borneo and seeing the damaging effects of illegal logging first-hand.

I want to trust the shop

I’d probably have a quick check of the label and make a snap judgement about the ‘type’ of shop I’m in (trying to convince myself that they wouldn’t sell me anything bad), but that would likely to be as far as I’d get.

And – of course – if I saw a sign or label suggesting that the shop only sells products from ‘responsible sources’ then bingo – I would feel sure that I didn’t need to worry and would let the shop absolve me of any guilt.

I don’t think I’m alone – many of us may feel it’s the retailer’s job to source ethical products and we want to believe they’re doing a good job (because then we don’t have to worry about it).

Can I trust the shop?

But this latest scandal, revealed by the Daily Mail, has called this into question and suggested that we can’t necessarily trust the retailers – because they in turn can’t trust their suppliers.

I imagine B&Q and Wickes – just like us – wanted to believe that their supplier (Asia Plywood) was sourcing the wood ethically. And as the company was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) they had no reason to question that this was not the case.

I don’t know what they could have done to avoid this. But the interesting question now – to which the two companies have responded quite differently – is what to do with this illegally-felled wood?

What to do with the wood

According to the Mail, B&Q ‘suddenly began stripping the wood from its shelves’ after it was contacted by the newspaper. But Wickes has continued to sell the product, insisting it is ‘better to give it to consumers than put it in a landfill site’.

I can appreciate Wickes’ argument – it must be better to make good use of this wood (now that the damage has been done) rather than dispose of it. But if Wickes is still selling it as FSC-certified, despite this new information, then surely this could mislead consumers?

One commenter on the Mail article suggested that the companies should ‘separate this batch and give the public an opportunity to buy, providing they give all profits to a conservation charity’. I’m not sure if B&Q and Wickes will go for this, but I don’t think it’s such a crazy idea…


The logical way to tackle the problem is to focus on ensuring that imported wood meets the FSC requirements because wood can pass through the hands of many companies before we buy it or wood products. Having every company taking responsibility for imported wood sounds good but simply adds to cost to consumers.

Hopefully B&Q and Wickes will change their supplier now that the facts are known.

Clare Rewcastle says:
1 February 2012

Hi Hazel – thanks for picking up the story, but sadly you are wrong. B&Q and Wickes knew perfectly well that they were selling wood that was no longer certified and were therefore deliberately misleading customers. Yes, they had originally been duped by their suppliers, who were in turn duped by the Malaysian manufacturers Asia Plywood Company. However, this had all been found out about before Christmas and the stores had been requested by the investigations agency of the FSC accreditation authority to remove the FSC stickers. Instead of doing this the stores chose to contest that request and to continue selling the product to consumers with a label saying it was “responsibly sourced” FSC certified wood. This was a label they could easily have peeled off. So, I am afraid you have to ask yourself if you really can trust the good intentions of these stores. Trading Standards and the OFT meanwhile, should be asking another set of questions entirely!

Thanks for your comments Clare. We’ve actually been talking to B&Q on Twitter who told us they were only alerted to the problem on Friday, but the question still remains – how do we know when and who to trust on where our wood comes from?

Clare Rewcastle says:
1 February 2012

I have the emails that prove that claim by B&Q is not true. I challenge them to ask me to publish them!

Only a guess mind, but I suppose a huge amount of imported wood falls foul of the FSC standard – and so long as it doesn’t carry a sticker that is alright then? No . . . of course not. B&Q and Wickes are probably the unlucky retailers that have been found out. There is absolutely no reason to ship wood from dubious sources tens of thousands of miles around the world just so we can have smarter kitchen tables. The supply chain for Asian furniture is so fragmented that no retailer – even the best – can put their hand on their heart and say with certainty that everything is fully compliant with the FSC certification. I’m not saying the FSC is not doing an excellent job but I think policing the myriad of individual sources in far-flung territories is impractical. The industry is prone to so much corruption, criminality and deception that only an embargo will have any effect.

GillyGloucs says:
22 February 2012

Never mind where the wood comes from, what about where it all goes when we’ve finished with it? Something like 1.7m tonnes of treated wood ends up in landfill and half a millkon tonnes gets sent abroad where it’s used for energy recovery – because we don’t have the infrastructure here to handle it.

JamesAard1 says:
24 February 2012

Since when has the ‘United-Nations’ had any balls? I know that ‘some wood’ may not sound that important, but it is far more important than the ‘some people’ who don’t care where it comes from. We should have a national guarantee from each of these countries that all is fair and sustainable. Oh, that is the FSC, no?