FSC vs PEFC: Holy cows vs the Emperor’s new clothes

One of the reasons I am involved in this website is that I believe that many people are aware of serious problems with FSC, but don’t discuss them publicly because the alternative to FSC is even worse. The alternative, in this case is PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) and all the other certification schemes (Cerflor, Certflor, the Australian Forestry Standard, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council and so on). One person has suggested that we should set up PEFC-Watch, in order “to be even-handed”.

The trouble with this argument is that PEFC et al have no credibility. No NGOs, people’s organisations or indigenous peoples’ organistations were involved in setting them up. Why bother spending our time monitoring something that amounts to little more than a rubber stamp? I can just see the headlines: “Rubber stamp PEFC scheme rubber stamps another controversial logging operation!” Shock, horror. The Emperor is stark bollock naked, and it’s not just some little boy pointing this out – it’s plain for all to see, isn’t it?

One way of countering all these other schemes would be to point out that FSC is better. But, if there are serious problems with FSC – which there are, and if we can see them, so can anyone else who cares to look – then the argument starts to look very shaky.

FSC standards aren’t bad (apart from Principle 10, which really isn’t much use to anyone except the pulp and paper industry). They say lots of things we’d probably want forest management standards to say. The trouble is that the standards are not being applied in practice. Sure, campaign against PEFC, but if FSC becomes a Holy Cow which is immune to criticism (not least because all the criticism takes place behind closed doors), then we can hardly present it as an alternative, can we?

By the way, anyone who thinks that PEFC and FSC are in opposition should read thisinterview with Heiko Liedeker (FSC’s Executive Director) and Ben Gunneberg (PEFC’s General Secretary). In particular this bit (I thought at first it must be a mix up between FSC and PEFC, or Liedeker and Gunneberg):

Question: As a follow-up question, Heiko Liedeker, from your perspective, is there room ultimately for programs like the Australian Forestry Standard, Certfor and others to operate under the FSC umbrella?Heiko Liedeker: Absolutely. FSC was a scheme that was set-up to provide mutual recognition between national standard-setting initiatives. Every national initiative sets its standard. Some of them are called FSC working groups, some of them are called something else. In the UK they are called UKWAS. We’ve been in dialogue with Edwardo Morales at Certfor Chile. They are some of the FSC requirements listed for endorsement, we certainly entered into discussion. We’ve been in discussion with the Australian Forestry Standard and other standard-setting initiatives. What FSC does not do is, it has one global scheme for recognizing certification. So we do not, and that’s one of the many differences between FSC and PEFC, we do not require the development of a certification program as such. A standard-setting program is sufficient to participate in the network.

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