Tesco admits selling banned hardwoods

Supermarket's garden tables are made from illegally logged timber, writes Severin Carrell
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The supermarket giant Tesco has admitted selling garden chairs and tables that use illegally logged hardwoods from the Indonesian rainforest. The supermarket's range of "Outdoor Living Deluxe" garden furniture, costing from as little as £33 for large tables or £25 for a bench, has been immensely popular - selling out in Tesco stores across the country.

Tesco boasts that the furniture is hand-crafted from a hardwood called yellow balau, which has a "rich lustre" and has been "utilised in prestigious garden furniture for generations".

But, to the firm's discomfort, it has emerged that the trees were felled and exported from Indonesia after the government in Jakarta banned the export of uncut hardwood logs in October 2001.

The disclosure is deeply embarrassing for Tesco. In 1995 it became one of the first supermarkets to promise that it would buy hardwoods from legal and environmentally friendly sources.

It signed up to the "95+ Group" charter run by the UK arm of WWF, the global environment group, which was designed to safeguard ancient, internationally threatened forests across the world.

Illegal logging in Indonesia - aided by corrupt officials and police officers - is regarded as one of the world's most pressing environmental crises.

Paper and timber companies, some funded by British banks, have been accused of stripping out vast areas of virgin forest, threatening scarce species such as orang-utans, tapirs and the Sumatran tiger.

Four years ago, Tesco told forestry campaigners at Friends of the Earth that it took its promises on legal forestry "very seriously". It also pledged to set up its own trustworthy forestry programme, and plant its own environmentally friendly forests.

But investigations by FoE and the Geneva-based timber trade group Tropical Forest Trust, have revealed that the wood used in seven out of the 10 pieces of garden furniture Tesco is selling this summer were felled and exported from Indonesia after the ban came into force.

The furniture was made by a Vietnamese firm, which has now joined Tropical Forest Trust and, with Tesco's agreement, has promised only to use wood from legitimate suppliers. Next year's range, the supermarket said yesterday, would be from legal sources.

A Tesco spokesman added: "We didn't knowingly buy timber from illegal sources ... We haven't done such a great job of checking where this material is coming from, and the ability to track it isn't up to our usual standards."

Environment campaigners believe this controversy strengthens their case for a European Union-wide ban on the import and sale of illegally forested timber.

Ed Matthews, a forestry campaigner with FoE, said this case - and several recent scandals where government ministries were caught using illegally sourced wood - proved that the voluntary system of ecological forestry was failing.

"I hope other retailers are sitting up and taking notice," he said. "Illegal logging is not just a case of losing a tree or two. It is about human rights abuse, organised crime, devastating poverty and insidious corruption."

However, WWF is making a final attempt to toughen up its voluntary code. Tesco will be challenged this week about its failure to fulfil its promises under the 95+ rules by Rachel Hembery, who runs the 95+ Group.

The organisation is tightening up its rules and is threatening to throw out any member that fails to sign up to a much tougher charter.

How green is your garden store?

Is your garden centre profiting at the expense of the environment? Apply these tests to find out. The higher the score, the worse the store:


Will undoubtedly set off your alpines or garden stream, but it looks even better in the natural rockeries for which God made it. Extraction of limestone pavement now illegal in UK, but allowed in Ireland. It shouldn't be.

Ungreen score: 5 for small rockery-sized lumps, 10 for larger pieces, 20 if they don't know the source.

Invasive aquatics

Can reach natural waterways either by being thrown out or transported by birds. This year we have seen on sale both water lettuce, from South America, and floating pennywort, from North America. These, and well-known hooligan plants such as the New Zealand pygmyweed, water fern and Canadian pondweed, clog up ponds.

Ungreen score: 10 for each of the above species. 20 each if the label does not warn that they are invasive.

Peat Bogs

A threatened and valuable habitat which, once ruined, takes generations to restore. Peat extraction still goes on, chiefly in Scotland and Ireland, but campaigning has pretty much halted it in England. Supplies also imported from Eastern Europe. Many sustainable alternatives are available.

Ungreen score: 20 for any natural peat.

Seaside pebbles

Popularised by TV's Charlie Dimmock and magazines. Smaller pebbles are bagged, larger ones sold by the piece. Their rounded shape is a dead giveaway that they've been taken from some beach, and even the most urbanised backyard prettifier must see that they are therefore out of place anywhere else.

Ungreen score: 5 if bagged, 10 if unbagged, 20 if bits of seaweed are still attached.

Plastic pots

Virtually impossible to avoid andalmost as difficult to dispose of in a green way. Biodegradable pots can be made from paper, grass and even Japanese knotweed.

Ungreen score: 5 for plastic pots, but subtract 3 if they also sell biodegradable ones.

Under five: Unimpeachable.

5-25: Quiet word with the manager needed.

26-35: Letter called for.

36-50: Boycott the place.

Over 45: Major threat to environment. Should be closed down.

David Randall