The Baltic nation of Latvia is blessed with some of the most beautiful forests in the world, millions of square kilometres of pristine woodland that support a complex biodiversity of rare species of animals and plants.
But with the Latvian economy in difficulties and the need for money pressing, those trees are being cut down at an alarming rate. Overseas demand for the timber is high, particularly in the UK, which takes almost two-thirds of Latvia's exports.
Many of the products of the trade from furniture to wood pulp and paper are sold in the UK under a labelling scheme run by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international NGO that certifies timber is being sustainably produced. Is that really true?
Filmmaker Glenn Ellis has been to investigate.
After this film was finished, Kingfisher (the parent company to the B&Q chain, one of the UK retailers mentioned in this film) finally gave us a statement: The company said it was committed to a policy of only purchasing timber products from proven well-managed sources.
"FSC remains our preferred certification scheme - being the closest to meeting our policy expectations, as well as being the scheme that is best understood by our customers. In August 2011 we wrote to our Latvian suppliers as soon as the loss of their FSC certificate was announced. We have been working with the FSC since then to offer assistance in encouraging the Latvian state forests back into the fold. All Latvian sourced timber in B&Q UK is FSC sourced. For FSC products we rely on FSC auditing and we have resident timber experts who have undertaken extensive verification of our timber data."
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), whose director, Charles Thwaites, is interviewed in the film, also subsequently came back to us with a clarification. The body said that it would now like to point out that the Latvian state-owned timber company or LVM…
"...have no FSC certificates issued to them that allow them to claim that their forests are either FSC certified in full or are covered by a controlled wood forest management certificate. It is possible that some timber from their woodland is entering the supply chain as controlled wood, but this would have had to be especially risk-assessed on its own merits. LVM does have a chain-of custody certificate that allows them to pass controlled wood on as a dealer, so to speak. However, this is not at all the same as saying that all their forests have 'blanket' controlled wood clearance. A chain-of-custody certificate only allows LVM to pass on timber as FSC-controlled wood from any source that had been properly risk-assessed as falling within the rules."