Alexander: It’s constantly evolving. What I was told is that most of it happens at night now. Loggers will go into an area, they’ll cut down more trees than they’re allowed to cut down, and they’ll load them up on trucks. The trucks are supposed to submit pictures of their haul to a database that’s run by the Romanian government to prove they’re not taking more than they should be, but there’s an incredible array of creative workarounds. Truckers will take pictures of just a small percentage of the truck and claim that it’s just a couple of logs. They’ll do things like put water on the camera lens so you can’t tell what’s in the photo at all. They’ll transport at night when they’re less likely to get detained. Of course, the forest guard in Romania doesn’t even work nights and weekends, so it’s not like they’re going to detain them then anyway. Then they’ll take the wood to a wood depot, where it’ll get mixed up with the legal logs, or get ground up into wood chips. It would be impossible to tell which log is legal and which one is not. Then they get handed off, and away they go.
Alex: That feels like a really important part of the Ikea aspect of this. Because Ikea, presumably, is not doing this themselves, but presumably they have to know what’s going on and therefore have to know they’re benefiting from it.
Alexander: Right. It would just be implausible otherwise. Ikea has invested in Romania, Eastern Europe, Russia—that’s the region that they’ve invested the most resources in. Their growth is predicated on that area above all else. That area also happens to be one where illegal logging is totally rampant. Outside of Romania, too, in Ukraine and Russia, this stuff is commonplace, and that obviously is not lost on them. They have a good sense of their supply chains. They wouldn’t leave these things up to chance at the rate at which they’re growing—they’re growing by at least two million trees per year. There’s just not that much wood, ultimately. If you’re going to say that 55 percent of Romanian logging is illegal, which is what the government found in a recent report, how could they possibly get enough wood to satisfy the production that they need to be the dominant global player that they are? They benefit from this, even if it’s only tacitly. There really isn’t even enough enforcement or visibility to prove one way or another how any individual log has been acquired.
Laura: You also point out quite an unusual dynamic in the piece, which is that whenever there have been signs that there might be some enforcement, this hasn’t stopped efforts but in fact encouraged logging to accelerate. Why is that?