Arguably, the National Initiatives (NIs) have been amongst the most successful parts of the FSC ‘project’: some NIs have genuinely brought together disparate interests to find acceptable compromises, which have allowed for national or regional standards to be developed. These national standards are a key element in ensuring that what the FSC’s accredited certifiers certify is acceptable to local ‘stakeholders’.
But this has not always been the case. One of FSC’s larger and most controversial certificates – that of Coillte in Ireland – was issued under a draft national standard which in turn had been produced by a dysfunctional national initiative, the Irish Forest Certification Initiative (IFCI). IFCI has been the source of serious controversy for at least 4 years; local environmental and social stakeholders have, at various times, been excluded or have withdrawn from a process that they say has been heavily dominated by Coillte itself. Concerns about maladministration and inadequate consultation have repeatedly been raised.
The FSC Secretariat has been aware of these problems all along, but has failed to take any meaningful action, even when an Environmenal chamber member of FSC’s international Board tried to intervene. Despite the known problems, in early 2006 the FSC Secretariat and Board formally ‘approved’ IFCI as the national FSC initiative for Ireland.
But the problems have continued. The following complaint from one local stakeholder organisation is very specific about the IFCI and its development of a national FSC standard. However, it provides some useful insights into how national initiatives can also serve to alienate important local stakeholders.
To: Ruth McGrath, Chair, The Irish Forestry Certification Initiative
GRIEVANCE OVER PUBLIC CONSULTATION
Dear Ms. McGrath
We wish to initiate the grievance procedure in relation to the Consultation Process for the current draft of the IFCI Standard.
These are the grounds of our Grievance.
*1. The public consultation meetings did not permit the recording or require regard to any issues raised verbally during the ‘consultation’ sessions as it has been made clear that only written submissions will be considered. (See website: ‘All interested parties are invited to contribute their views, however, only written submissions will be considered.’) This renders the public consultation meaningless.
*2. €40,000 is available to IFCI for the consultation process and IFCI’s Secretary, Chairman, or Brian Tobin were unable to format the [draft national] Standard and this work had to be done on a voluntary basis by the FIE representative. Overall, the financial burden of this process is falling on the NGO stakeholders who have no resources to do any additional work in making the required written submissions, attending meetings, etc.
*3. The Public Consultation was not advertised with sufficient public notice. Friends of the Irish Environment were notified after the Dublin meeting (on the day of the Portlaoise meeting) and so unable to alert its network in that area.
*4. No notice was received by many of the key stakeholders who have complained of their exclusion from the process to date, i.e. the Woodland League, in spite of FSC’s recent accreditation conditions specifically requiring this. Every person who has contributed to the process to date should have been notified in writing.
*5. The Cork Consultation was advertised in the Newspapers as being on 21 October rather than November.
*6. The location of the Cork public consultation was not in the city centre or a place served by public transport but in Togher on the eastern side of the city, an area known as the ‘Myross of Cork’.
*7. Phone calls by the Macroom Environmental Group [MEG] to the hotel to clarify the date were told there was no booking for IFCI and that there was no public meeting. Only after serious and prolonged argument did the Manager agree to call a Brian Tobin who was listed as having a room booked for a private meeting for 50 people. The Manager then called the MEG apologising. MEG was the only stakeholder to attend.
Unless the public consultation is done properly, Friends of the Irish Environment, who are members of Forest Stewardship Council International, could no longer continue to support this Irish initiative to introduce Forest Stewardship Certification into Ireland and will request FSC International to withdraw the Irish Forest Stewardship Council’s accreditation.
Tony Lowes Director, Friends of the Irish Environment