London-based Lombok was convicted last week after pleading guilty to failing to deliver adequate supply chain checks when placing an Indian-imported artisan sideboard on the market.

Westminster Magistrates handed Lombok a fine of £5,000 plus costs for its failure to comply with EU Timber Regulations, which requires businesses to undertake robust due diligence to minimise the risks of selling illegally harvested timber.

The District Judge told the court that, in doing so, Lombok had neglected environmental and biodiversity concerns.

Charge dispute

Lombok has since entered into a dispute with Insolvency Service – the government agency which brought forward the prosecution on behalf of BEIS.

The argument surrounds a claim made by Insolvency Service over Lombok’s alleged failure to check its product was made from legally-harvested timber, despite receiving numerous warnings.

Insolvency Service states that a warning letter was sent to Lombok in October 2015 after the company failed to comply with a notice of remedial action. But upon visiting Lombok’s central showroom exactly a year later, officers claimed that due diligence checks had still not been made.

“Lombok failed to change their practises in response to our advice and so, given the impact of illegal logging, a criminal prosecution was appropriate,” BEIS head of regulatory delivery enforcement Mike Kearney said.

This claim has been strongly refuted by the retailer, which has described the allegation as a “clear misrepresentation” of the facts of the charge. Lombok states that it took “proactive” remedial action to mitigate the risk, a factor that was observed by the Westminster Magistrates District Judge when handing out a charge.

“Decisive action” had been taken to reform procedures as early as September 2016, Lombok said, although by the date of inspection, an external supply chain risk assessment for the artisan sideboard had not yet been completed.

“Lombok prides itself on its reputation for selling high quality, ethically sourced products,” the firm’s managing director Stuart Lewis said in a press statement.

“We have always insisted on our suppliers providing evidence of quality marks and accreditations, which would form part of our assessment. To suggest that we had ‘not checked’ the sources of our products is simply untrue.”

Lewis stressed that, upon completion of two supply chain risk assessments for the item in question, the risk of illegal timber was found to be ‘negligible’, meaning the piece was safe to market. He was therefore “disappointed” with the Government’s decision to charge the firm.

Responsible sourcing

Green campaigners have long claimed that the majority of British furniture retailers are failing to treat responsible timber sourcing as a key issue. Major luxury retailers such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges have been blamed for a lack of action to ensure the timber of wood products they sell are not contributing to deforestation.

Campaign organisation WWF has previously warned that ‘primary’ forest areas are being depleted at an alarming rate in many forested countries. Nigeria and Vietnam, for instance, have reputedly lost 99% and 80% of primary forest respectively – almost two million hectares – since 1990. 

The greatest challenge regarding responsible sourcing concerns finished furniture imports from countries outside of EU Timber Regulation jurisdictions, WWF claims. Almost 60% of €4.1bn (£3.6bn) UK furniture imports originate from outside the EU, while total imports from “high risk” countries with recognised illegal logging and trade issues – such as China, Vietnam, and Malaysia – are valued at €1.9bn (£1.7bn).

George Ogleby

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