WoodMark pioneers ‘continuous deterioration’ certification in Ireland

Finally, as the FSC’s inspectors arrive at its doors for its annual accreditation inspection, Soil Association WoodMark has produced the long-awaited and overdue report of its 2006 surveillance of controversial Irish state forestry company, Coillte.

Many people, not the least Irish environmental and social stakeholders, will be disappointed that WoodMark has failed to cancel the certificate outright, in the face of overwhelming evidence of Coillte’s non-compliance with FSC’s Principles and Criteria. But what is revealing about the report is the number of ‘Correction Action Requests’ that WoodMark has had to issue in order to keep the certificate alive.

When WoodMark took over the Coillte certificate from SGS in 2003, they inherited 15 CARs. This increased to 32 in early 2006 when WoodMark carried out its first full re-certification. The new report, resulting from WoodMark’s annual surveillance in December 2006, reveals that a staggering 43 CARs, ‘Conditions’, ‘Recommendations’ and ‘Pre-Conditions’ have been issued, including 5 Major CARs.

Whilst WoodMark has long justified its maintenance of the Coillte certificate as a means of encouraging ‘continuous improvement’ of the company’s performance, the evidence thus suggests that Coillte is going backwards, not forwards.

The report also reveals in clear terms that the ‘continuous improvement’ view of FSC certification is nothing but an excuse for failing to cancel ‘non-performing’ certificates. For example, in 2003 WoodMark issued a ‘Minor CAR’ requiring Coillte to “develop and document an adequate procedure for resolution of disputes and grievances with local people”. In 2006, ignoring all the evidence that local people had been providing of Coillte’s actual contempt for their concerns, WoodMark downgraded this to a mere ‘recommendation’, noting lamely that“There is scope to improve the management of disputes and grievances”. Now, fully four years on from its orginal assessment of Coillte, WoodMark has had to issue exactly the same CAR as before, only this time elevated to a Major CAR.

The fact that Coillte has failed to resolve this problem after four years – and indeed, as reported repeatedly on FSC-Watch, appears to have got worse – should be grounds enough for immediate cancellation of the certificate.

Another area of major concern for Irish stakeholders and rights-holders has been Coillte’s failure to comply with the national target for planting of native broadleave trees, and its continued smothering of the country in biodiversity-destroying alien spruce trees. In 2003, WoodMark inherited a Corrective Action Request issued by former certifier SGS, which stated that “Not all FMUs currently meet the minimum percentage requirements [for planting of native species] and do not adequately detail how these percentages will be achieved in the future”. Four years on, and WoodMark has been forced to admit that Coillte is still not planting enough broadleaves, noting that “BL planting rates in 2005 and 2006 were below 10%…it is not clear that Coillte will continue to make acceptable progress towards this target”. However, evidently facing the reality that Coillte have no real intention of meeting the broadleaves target in any foreseeable timescale, WoodMark have now pathetically issued a mere ‘condition’, stating that“Coillte shall ensure and clearly demonstrate that the annual increase in the area under broadleaves is consistent with achieving the target of 10% cover”. In other words, Coillte has been allowed to get away with not meeting the national broadleaves target for the last four years, with the full knowledge of its FSC certifiers, and WoodMark have not even issued a Major CAR for this major failure. In fact, we are no closer to seeing the target met now than we were before the company was first certified.

With its latest surveillance report of Coillte, Soil Association WoodMark has shown that it is not fit to remain as an FSC-accredited certifier. It’s ‘certification’ programme is a fiasco, based on ‘hoped-for improvements’ rather than actual performance, and maintenance of unwarranted certificates even when these ‘improvements’ fail to materialise.

FSC-Watch hopes that FSC’s inspection of Soil Association WoodMark over the next few days will result in a much more decisive outcome than WoodMark’s pusillanimous treatment of Coillte.

WoodMark’s 2006 Surveillance report of Coillte, for what it is worth, is available here:CoillteFMS12006report_FINAL.xls

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