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Cutting the illegal cutters. Deforestation in Romania

Around 78% of the remaining pristine forests existing in Europe are in Romania, home to more large mammals than all other European states combined, excluding Russia. This might change fast. A video made by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), exposed an Austrian company (Holzindustrie Schweighofer), which is the dominant player on the wood products market in Romania. In this video, the officials of the Austrian company, in a very explicit manner, willingly and knowingly accepted illegally harvested wood and incentivised additional cutting through a bonus system, offered by an undercover EIA investigator posed as foreign investor. Needless to say that the video caused quite a stir in Romania.

Der Spiegel went on to expose the attempted cover up by the Holzindustrie Schweighofer management. Soon after, The Romanian Ministry of Environment and Climate Change started a control at Austrian group Holzindustrie Schweighofer’s local units in Sebes and Radauti. The company started threats of leaving Romania and the lost jobs this would cause and drumming the ‘bad investor atmosphere’ drum.

Massive deforestation has dramatically accelerated in Romania between 2000 and 2011, a period coinciding with the commencement of activity for three Austrian companies in the wood products field: Holzindustrie Schweighofer, Egger and Kronospan. The business model of these companies, especially Schweighofer, has had a devastating impact on local communities, traditions and the environment, while ignoring the concept of sustainable development. This has led to an estimated 50 000 job losses in the local economy so far. Compare this to the 3000 jobs created by Holzindustrie Schweighofer. In the last 25 years, 400 000 ha of forest has been illegally cut in Romania, causing an estimated damage of 5 billion euros. According to a report from Greenpeace Romania, 3 ha are disappearing PER HOUR.

A large number of Romanian organisations, NGOs and associations have decided to stop the ecocide of their forests. The campaign began in several cities in Europe and Canada: Brussels, London, Paris, Milan, Vienna, Dublin, Prague, Rome, Munich, Madrid, Montreal, Toronto, Bucharest and Timisoara. Representatives of several organisations handed an open letter to the Austrian embassies and consulates in the above mentioned cities. In the letter, the signatories express their concerns regarding the illegal and immoral practices of Holzindustrie Schweighofer, and their disapproval of the Austrian embassy’s support for this company. Simultaneously, letters and emails have been sent to several clients of Holzindustrie Schweighofer, informing them of being indirect parties in destroying the local communities of Romania, their traditional way of living, job losses and massive deforestation. This campaign continued with big protests in several cities in Romania and abroad: Bucharest, Alba-Iulia, Baia Mare, Brasov, Cluj, Focsani, Iasi, Ploiesti, Oradea, Sfantu-Gheorghe, Sibiu, Suceava, Targoviste, Vaslui, Constanta and, abroad: London, Paris, Madrid, Montreal, Vienna. For Holzindustrie Schweighofer this is a huge PR nightmare and for Romania this is a good opportunity to strengthen the Forest legislation, which is exactly what they are now trying to do. Already, the government announced it would temporarily ban the export of wood and the President himself now calls deforestation a national security threat. Whether the illegal logging can be grinded to a halt remains to be seen, but the signs of a major campaign having some success in stopping a grave environmental injustice are hopeful.

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