Ikea controversies don't deter Winnipeg fans

With Ikea set to open its Winnipeg store this week, fans say they're not deterred by reports of how the company's socially conscious image has been dented in recent years.
Days before Ikea opens its Winnipeg location, there are questions about how 'green' and socially responsible the Swedish furniture retailer really is. 2:06

With Ikea set to open its Winnipeg store to much hype this week, fans of the Swedish retail furniture giant say they're not deterred by reports of how the company's socially conscious image has been dented in recent years.

Ikea prides itself for its social conscience, making large donations to popular social causes and forging partnerships with environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.

The image of the Swedish retailer, seemingly synonymous with Nordic wholesomeness, has recently been accused of acting at times like a multinational corporation seeking to cut costs and boost profits in ethically questionable ways.

But Winnipeggers like Amy Walters, who have been waiting for years for an Ikea store to open in the city, say the company's controversies won't stop them from shopping there.

"I think every company has something in their past that maybe if they would go back they would change, so I wouldn't hold that against them in any way," Walters said Monday.

Officials with Ikea told CBC News the Winnipeg location will be one of its greenest stores, as it will use 40 per cent less energy. The building will feature a geothermal energy system and a highly reflective rooftop, they added.

As well, the company says it will be inviting a First Nations elder to bless the store when it officially opens on Wednesday.

Here are some publicized examples of the global controversies Ikea has faced:

Clear-cutting allegations

Ikea is the world's third-largest consumer of wood, after Lowe's and Home Depot. It obtains most of its supply either from Russia or China.

Ikea's stated goal is to source all of its wood supply from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

However, the corporation's subsidiary, Swedwood, recently was accused of destroying old-growth forest in Russia's Karelia region.

A Swedish television crew went to the forest and claimed the company was cutting trees in ways that were not sustainable.

Viktor Säfve, chairman of Protect the Forest, reached the same conclusion after visiting the company's operations last year.

"We have documented the reality of Ikea's forestry, and it's a far cry from the fine words in their advertising," he told the Barents Observer, an Arctic internet news service.

Ikea responded to the TV expose by saying, "We are taking these charges seriously and investigating them in depth."

The company adds that it has worked with Russian authorities to create standards for logging in the area.

It denies it has clear cut old-growth forest in the area, noting that the trees in the Karelia forest are not older than 160 years old.

In 2007, Ikea's Chinese forest operations were cited in a Washington Post report about illegal cutting in China.

Ikea admitted to the newspaper that some of its suppliers were falsifying the source of their timber.

Stopping it would require more inspections, said Ikea's global manager for social and environmental affairs, Thomas Bergmark. And that costs money.

"It would take enormous resources if we trace back each and every wood supply chain. We can never guarantee that each and every log is from the right source," he said in the report.

In 2005, only four per cent of Ikea's Chinese wood supply was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Episode of forced labour

Earlier this year, media reports accused Ikea and other companies of using forced labour in East German prisons from the 1960s to the 1980s.

On a lighter note…

A few years ago, some in Denmark accused Ikea of cultural imperialism after noticing that the all of the company's cheap rugs and doormats were named after Danish cities.

The company said that was just a coincidence.

And those who love Ikea for its Swedish meatballs should know the company's head office relocated long ago to the Netherlands.

The reason: lower taxes.

Former prisoners, including political dissidents, described how they were forced under brutal conditions to produce office furniture that went into flat packs with the Ikea logo on them.

Ikea commissioned auditors Ernst & Young to look into the allegations.

The audit confirmed the allegations and went further, suggesting that Ikea executives most likely knew what was going on.

Ikea issued a formal apology and said it's taking measures to ensure similar conditions do not exist in China, where a large part of the company's stock is manufactured.

However, the company's own sustainability report in 2011 shows only 41 per cent of Asian suppliers conform to the company's rules.

Recently, it gave Chinese companies an exemption to its limit on overtime to 60 hours per week.