Bureau Veritas accreditation suspended in Cameroon

FSC-Watch has previously reported on the highly controversial certification of Wijma, a company logging in the rainforests of Cameroon which the independent observer of forests in that country has repeatedly found to be involved in illegalities.

The certification has now led to the suspension of Wijma’s certifer, Bureau Veritas (formerly Eurocertifor). We have been asked to post the following article, which is submitted by Danielle van Oijen, Forest Campaigner, Milieudefensie / Friends of The Earth Netherlands.

From FSC-Watch’s perspective, this case raises some interesting questions about how FSC handles controversial certificates issued by ‘under-performing’ certifiers. It seems highly anomalous that Bureau Veritas’s performance in the case of Wijma is judged bad enough to suspend the certifier – but the certificate itself nevertheless remains valid. There is also the question of how realistic it is to expect a certifier that is ‘suspended’ to ‘maintain’ a certificate.

FSC-Watch invites the Accreditation Services of FSC to explain these apparent anomalies, as well as to provide FSC-Watch with the relevant FSC statutes which set out the conditions under which ‘suspensions’ of certifiers take place.

1st of February FSC Accreditation Services announced that the FSC accredited Certification Body, Bureau Veritas Certification (formerly known as Eurocertifor) has been suspended in Cameroon for not adequately demonstrating compliance with major corrective action requests.

As of 12th February 2007, Bureau Veritas Certification is not allowed to perform new evaluations or issue new FSC certificates in Cameroon. This decision was taken after an ASI Surveillance Forest Management Audit of Bureau Veritas Certification in June 2006. During this audit 10 minor and 5 major Corrective Action Requests were issued. The performance of the certification body was considered poor. In the public summary report we can read that “ASI audit team considers that at time of the FSC surveillance audit, the certification body had not adequately evaluated compliance of the certificate holder and had not requested appropriate corrective actions”.

Several NGOs had filed a formal complaint on the performance of Bureau Vertitas Certification during the certification process of one of the concessions hold by Wijma (a Dutch timber company). Some of the complaints were that they only published a full public summary report in one of the FSC languages nearly a year after the certifcation decision. Until that time NGOs did not get any relevant feedback from Bureau Veritas Certification on their comments. Furthermore NGOs in Cameroon questioned the capacity of the certifier to carry out a dialogue devoid of aggressiveness and respecting the legitimate issues raised by civil society. In November 2006 Bureau Veritas Certification tried to improve communication and met with several NGO stakeholders.

Bureau Veritas Certification is the certification body in at least two other certification procedures in Cameroon managed by Wijma and Reef respectively. Those companies will have to be transfered to another certifier. As for the existing Wijma certificate, and as far as I know, Bureau Veritas Certification can maintain it. In March 2007 the next audit of the concession by FSC ASI will take place. Wijma has been improving considerably and in a structural way and I feel the company is very much committed to keep improving and move forward with FSC certification. But there are still some issues to be investigated, such as poaching and illegal logging by third parties and non-timber forest products before we can state without doubts that Wijma is operating in full compliance with the FSC standard.

With this decision, FSC gives a very strong signal, which is beneficial for the credibility of the FSC scheme in general and for the future of FSC certification in Cameroon. Many more companies are working towards FSC certification in Cameroon. Therefore it is very important to set a good standard in the Wijma certification, the first FSC certificate in Cameroon. I want to see high quality FSC certifications in Cameroon, free from doubts or controversies and real impacts on the ground for the forests and the people depending on them for their livelihoods. Encouraging is that FSC – by following up closely and radical on this certificate – seems to feel the same!

danielle.van.oijen (at) milieudefensie.nl

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