On October 21, a press conference was organized by the environmental organizations WWF, EIA and Agent Green in Vienna. The representatives of the three NGOs accused the Austrian company Holzindustrie Schweighofer of massive violations of the European Timber Trade Regulation. Their allegations are based on video footage of EIA and Agent Green, in which Schweighofer representatives accept and even offer bonus payments for illegaly harvester Romanian wood. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) issued a report which contains new evidence, however during the press conference, there were few references to this specific material.
Earlier this year, two videos showing Schweighofer purchasing managers accepting illegal wood were released. A logging truck from a Romanian national park was filmed with a hidden camera as it transported undocumented logs to Schweighofer, despite the company’s claim that it rejects timber from National Parks. Over the past year, AGENT GREEN has investigated and exposed a series of cases of illegal or unsustainable logging in national parks and other protected areas.
EIA found that over 50 per cent of logging in Romania is illegal, which includes illegal cutting in national parks, clear-cutting, overharvesting, use of false permits, and logging on stolen land. According to government reports, 20 percent of public forest land was handed to interests other than the rightful owners following the fall of Communism.
WWF on Wednesday filed a complaint at the Federal Forest Office in Vienna for violations of the European Timber Regulation (EUTR) and called for a full investigation of the allegations against Schweighofer. The Federal Forest Office is the responsible EUTR authority in Austria.
EIA also finds that Schweighofer has caused massive damage to the furniture industry in Romania by pushing up prices and buying out timber stocks. According to former Romanian Minister of Environment, Doina Pana, this practice has cost the Romanian economy 50,000 jobs since Schweighofer settled in the country. According to EIA, Schweighofer extracts the profits from its Romanian businesses through a complex network of companies. At the head of this structure sits a private foundation (“Schweighofer Privatstiftung”) registered in Austria, through which the company enjoys significant tax benefits, says EIA.
Holzindustrie Schweighofer described the accusations as untrue and the action of the NGOs as untrustworthy. The environmental organizations tried to represent unlawful acts where there were none, the company complained.
A Schweighofer spokesperson replied to EIA's accusations by denying that in ''any business discussion, Holzindustrie Schweighofer representatives said ‘we accept illegal wood’. Their statements were taken out of context, to leave the impression that they were flexible, but what they really said was that they accepted a higher volume''.
The spokesperson rejected the allegation that the company was sourcing unmarked logs: “There is no log coming into the sawmills or the collecting points without documents or without the proper marking/stamp”.
Moreover, Schweighofer accuses EIA of refusing to publish unedited video footage. Schweighofer assumes that the video footage is on purpose edited, claiming that a delivery of illegally logged wood could not happen at the company's factory gates due to the strict controls at Schweighofer.
Finally, Schweighofer stressed its willingness to talk with the environmental organizations. Holzindustrie Schweighofer has for a long time demanded improvements to regulatory control measuring systems, in order to uncover ''black sheeps'' and system errors, because, says Schweighofer, it is in the interest of all reputable operating companies in the market.
Also read on this topic:
- Schweighofer threatens to withdraw from Romania due to the new Forestry Code
- Thousands rally for protests in Romania against massive logging
- Romanian Ministry of Environment to check Holzindustrie Schweighofer’s local operations
- EIA accuses Schweighofer of buying illegally harvested wood in Romania
- Gerald Schweighofer replies to accusations; problems still on hold