Up until a few years ago, FSC’s accredited certifiers were prohibited from certifying for other forest certification schemes, because of the obvious conflict of interest that this would represent. But, as has been the way of things in the FSC, such a ban represented an obstacle to the increase of the certifiers’ profits, and was therefore duly done away with. (One of the more bizarre justifications offered for this profound weakening of the FSC’s rules, from the now Chair of FSC’s Board, Grant Rosoman, was that, if the certifiers were prohibited from ‘moonlighting’ for other schemes, then they would simply set up nominally separate organisations to get around this rule. So much for the notion that FSC’s certifiers are required to work to the highest ethical standards…)
The FSC-accredited certifiers are now able to certify for whichever other schemes they want, whether or not this represents a real or potential conflict with their role as certifiers for the FSC.
In the open letter to SmartWood below, a long term supporter and member of FSC raises with Rainforest Alliance SmartWood concerns about its imminent plans to start a ‘Legality Verification’ certification scheme. The author’s worries are perfectly valid – though they will surely cut no ice with SmartWood, which has been the most aggressively expansionist of all the FSC-accredited certifiers.
In fact other schemes such as ‘legality verification’ are a direct challenge to the FSC, and to efforts to encourage ‘sustainable forest management’. Encouraged by high profile campaigns against ‘the illegal timber trade’, some governmments, companies and other agencies have been quick to realise that if they can show that they are only importing or trading in ‘legal’ timber, then hopefully the public will therefore think that the ‘forest problem’ has been ‘solved’. Increasingly, ‘legal’ is being equated with ‘sustainable’, though of course this completely overlooks the reality that it is perfectly possible for timber to be legal but totally unsustainable – as is the case with almost every stick of ‘legal’ timber coming out of the tropics. Some FSC certifiers anyway have a lamentable record in detecting illegalities in timber operations, as various postings on this website have shown.
So, whilst ‘legality verification’ is a potentially very lucrative market for the certifiers, it could serve to directly undermine the wider objectives of the FSC. Apparently not content with sucking out most of the revenue streams from FSC certification – leaving the FSC itself permanently under-resourced – some certifiers are evidently moving on to even more profitable activities, regardless of whether or not this harms the FSC.
To: Jeff Hayward jhayward (at) ra.org
URGENT CLOSING DATE MAY 15th
Submission re proposed certification standard verification of legal origin (VLO) and verification of legal compliance (VLC).
We appreciate Smartwoods transparency and the approach taken of seeking broad stakeholder input and review on the standards for ‘legal’ compliance and ‘legal’ origin. However we are writing to express our grave concerns on the broader context of legality verification and Smartwood’s expansion into this field.
Our concerns relate to a number of keys issues.
1 There is no legally binding global governance structure for trading in forest products consequently there is no accepted international framework for or definition of ‘legal’ wood. As a result there has been the development of a plethora of voluntary mechanisms to try and ensure legality in the global timber
2 In the absence of legally binding global governance and accreditation structures the only credible third party guarantees of ‘legality’ actually comes when voluntary certification is based on full responsible management assessment to a credible third party scheme.
3 This approach will see very perverse environmental outcomes, where supposedly ‘legal’ wood will come from the conversion old growth forests or native ecosystems to monoculture food, fibre and fuel crops. Indeed this issue is already a major point of contention with some of the PEFC endorsed schemes
4 Even in fully developed economies we have seen ‘legality’ redefined when courts find that logging is occurring illegally. We refer you to a recent decision of the Federal Court of Australia (Brown vs Forestry Tasmania). The court found that the land manager was acting illegally by failing to protect endangered species. The Australian Government responded by changing bilateral agreements to accommodate the status quo.
5 Smartwood already has an approach ‘Stepwise’ to provide low level entry to certification. Legality verification should only be used in the context of a stepwise approach to ensure that legality verification is the beginning of the process rather than end.
6 The development of standards around legality to secure market access for products into environmentally aware markets will inevitability degrade the value of all certification, as verified ‘legal’ products will compete with fully certified ones, and particularly when the ENGO sector has to respond with negative campaigning attacking ‘legality branding’
7 While legality verification is a part of determining responsible forest management, when it is stand alone no public claims should be able to be made. We urge you to remove the ability to make public claims from your legality verification standards. It should be a business to business arrangement only.
We would urge you to reconsider your whole approach to this issue given your leadership role within the voluntary certification market.
National Forests Campaign Coordinator The Wilderness Society PO Box 188, Civic Square ACT 2608 ph +61 437 075 212 Canberra Number 02 62496491