In light of the recent tragedies in Bangladesh, and even more recently in Cambodia, we cant allow the interiors industry to follow such a shameful way of operating. Knowledge, transparency and questioning is what’s needed. But just who is going to look after our homes interiors and the impact they have around the world? So we are taking a look into unethical furniture manufacturers; illegal use of materials and how we can prevent the exploitation of workers and the environment in developing countries. Its becoming ever more difficult to ignore how some of our “favourite” companies are employing workers in unethical, and extremely unsafe conditions to ensure customers are kept happy in their “fast fix needs” for their homes. As our lives become busier and more hectic, we more often than not find ourselves searching for that quick fix to update our interiors, and our lives, and thanks to the recession it’s often something relatively cheap too. But when you stop and think about it, just how is that brand new sofa made and sold so cheaply? The Ethical Consumer Magazine has undertaken research which has led it to challenge Heals, Laura Ashley and Habitat to prove that their wooden furniture is not manufactured from illegally sourced timber. During the research for their ‘buyers guide’ on furniture, these three companies along with 20 others were unable to provide the magazine with any proof that their beds, tables and chairs had not been manufactured from illegally sourced timber. Shocking – as we expect these brands to be reputable.
Illegally sourced timber is harvested from national parks, outside of logging concessions and from illegal plantations. The harvesting is having a devastating impact on communities, endangered forest habitats, and wildlife in large parts of South East Asia, Africa and South America.
There are ways to ensure your new furniture has an ethical background. Firstly by buying Fair Trade furniture, you are ensuring the makers are employed in better working conditions, paid better money, there is a good level of local sustainability and that there are fair trade terms for local farmers and workers in the developing world.
There are numerous companies available which sell Fair Trade furniture, one such example is The Living Rooms. Their furniture is both sustainable in manufcature and ethically traded to support producers and craftsmen around the world. The Living Rooms work with a large network of trusted sustainable importers and BAFTS(British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers) registered suppliers to help furnish your home with pieces which do not have a negative impact on the communities and environments where they are produced.
Another way to be certain is to check for the FSC mark on your furniture. The Forest Stewardship Council is an international, non-governmental organisation which promotes responsible management of the worlds forests. John Lewis have a great range of FSC certified furniture available, whether its for indoor or outdoor use and claim that 100% of their outdoor furniture is FSC certified.
With a rising public interest in sustainability and ethics many high street stores are making big steps to improve their sustainable activities –the likes of Ikea now ensure that all the materials used, and the labour used to produce it is all sustainably sourced and meets international regulations. The Iway standard(unique to Ikea) is the company’s set of ‘rules’ for the requirements for environment, social & working conditions when purchasing products, materials and services, ensuring that furniture and manufacturing gets better and more ethical. B&Q also pride themselves on being the UK’s biggest and most successful home improvement retailer without compromising their commitment to the environment and the people they trade with. 100% of timber products B&Q buy can be traced back to well managed sources, and have increased the amount of waste that is reused, recycled or composted by 57%.
Working with Bioregional, they have created the One Planet Home Sustainability Action Plan which identifies the company’s key impacts and influences, whilst setting out their plans to continuously improve the sustainability of the business. Take a look at the plan here.
If we really care about our homes, we should remember that what goes on indoors has an impact beyond our front doorsteps. By asking the right questions, and buying better we can, as consumers, change the way retailers take responsibility for the products that they manufacture, transport and sell- ensuring that tragedies such as those in Dhaka, don’t impact on our homes or the lives of others around the world.