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As IKEA is hit by illegal logging link in Europe, furniture firm's sustainability function in Southeast Asia dissolves

The Swedish furniture maker has retired sustainability roles, saying it wants to 'make sustainability part of everyday business for every co-worker'. Meanwhile, the brand famous for flatpacked furniture is facing allegations that it has been sourcing illegal timber.

As global furniture retailer IKEA faces allegations of illegal logging links in Europe, it has emerged that the company is retiring its sustainability function in Southeast Asia.

IKEA Southeast Asia told Eco-Business on Thursday that since the sustainability function has been integrated throughout the company, there is no need for roles that focus solely on environmental or social matters. 

The news emerged after enquires were made about an investigation by a civic society group in Europe that alleged that IKEA, which is the world’s largest user of wood, has been sourcing illegal timber from forests in Ukraine.

Corinna Schuler, head of corporate communication for IKEA’s Southeast Asia franchise, said that the decision to dissolve the sustainability function was planned, and not motivated by economic pressures on the company. IKEA’s stores in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have been closed during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Our aim is to make sustainability part of everyday business for every co-worker.

Corinna Schuler, head of corporate communication, IKEA Southeast Asia

IKEA Southeast Asia’s three sustainability managers had been tasked to integrate sustainability into all areas of the business by 2021, working with various teams to set targets and develop processes. They completed the transition a year early, Schuler said.

IKEA’s Southeast Asia Singapore-based sustainability head, Soh Bee Lian, left after just over a year with the company in February. She has joined Dyson as regional head of supply chain. Parveen Sindhu, IKEA’s sustainability manager for Malaysia, is now part of the procurement team. Supharoek Wichianchot, sustainability manager for Thailand, is now head of human resources for a Bangkok Ikea store.

Lars Svensson, who oversees IKEA Southeast Asia’s sustainability function and also runs communications, is to continue as a sustainability spokesperson but focus on communications.

“The way we work with it [sustainability] is part of a cost-conscious approach, and our aim is to make sustainability part of everyday business for every co-worker,” said Schuler. “Caring for people and planet is one of our IKEA values and part of our DNA. We are of course still learning and developing – but we are on the way.”

IKEA continues to have sustainability teams elsewhere around the world.

Meanwhile, IKEA’s headquarters in Sweden are facing difficult questions about its supply chain, with an 18-month investigation by United Kingdom-based NGO Earthsight alleging that the company has been sourcing illegal timber from endangered lynx and bear habitat in Ukraine.

IKEA’s sourcing arm has denied wrongdoing, saying that it would stop working with any supplier found to have broken its strict rules on sustainability.

IKEA Southeast Asia said: “As retailers, we are not involved in product development but we are of course concerned about the serious allegations around sourcing of wood in Ukraine.  We look forward to the outcome of independent inquiries that are now underway.”

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