FSC Ireland: ‘failure at all levels’, and now a formal complaint against IFCI

FSC-Watch has reported several times on the on-going problems with the FSC certification of the Irish state forestry company, Coillte. The conflict over this particular certificate is but one of many such conflicts worldwide, but in some ways it exemplifies the worst of the FSC. Amongst Irish stakeholders, the FSC is becoming a bye-word for incompetence, foot-dragging and obstruction. FSC’s activities in Ireland have now sparked a formal complaint though, as FSC-Watch has reported, given the state of FSC’s complaints’ procedures, it is difficult to see how or if this could bring a satisfactory resolution to a problem that has now been festering for nearly 8 years.

The national FSC process in Ireland – the Irish Forest Certification Initiative (IFCI) – has been the subject of many ‘informal complaints’ throughout those years, resulting in the direct involvement of FSC Board members and staff, though none of them have yet been able to resolve the problems. IFCI long ago broke with FSC’s normal requirements by adding an additional ‘chamber’, which effectively gave the forest industry, and especially the state forestry company Coillte, a 50% stake, and allowed for the preparation of a draft national FSC standard which was very favourable to Coillte itself. This draft standard, which has been disputed by under-resourced environmental and social stakeholders ever since, was then used by SGS as a basis for the certification in 2001 of Coillte’s 400,000 or so hectares of mostly exotic species’ plantations.

‘Sustainable forestry’. Coillte-style

For reasons that were never clear, the Coillte certificate passed in 2004 from SGS to Soil Assocation WoodMark, amidst growing and detailed evidence of Coillte’s non-compliance with the Principles and Criteria. This did not deter Soil Association from re-certifying Coillte in 2006, even though at the very time of the audit, Coillte was in dispute with local landholders, and in clear and serious breech of numerous of the P&C. WoodMark has been forced to issue a growing number of CARs against Coillte, but the NGO Friends of the Irish Environment has now produced a detailed critique of WoodMark’s latest Public Summary report on Coillte, showing that numerous major problems have been overlooked by WoodMark, that should clearly render Coillte uncertifiable. FIE have written to FSC asking for suspension of the certificate.

Even though the FSC Secretariat can see from WoodMark’s own audit reports that Coillte continues after many years to have persistent ‘non-compliances’, it has failed to sanction the certifier – and the Secretariat itself not yet produced the report of the accreditation inspection that it undertook of WoodMark in April 2007.

Although controversy continues to surround the Irish Forest Certification Initiative, it was finally ‘endorsed’ by FSC in 2006 (and the ‘4th chamber’ was done away with). But after some 6 years or so of deliberations, IFCI has still not succeded in producing a credible national FSC standard for Ireland that can be agreed by all stakeholders. Friends of the Irish Environment has now submitted a formal complaint against the IFCI, in which the national initiative is accused, amongst other things, of “non-compliance with accreditation conditions as given by FSC”.

The certification of Coillte, the associated shenanigans within the IFCI, the transparently weak certification by WoodMark, and the inability of the FSC Secretariat to act decisively, represent failure at all levels, and together remain as a persistent blot on the FSC’s credibility. To Irish environmental and social stakeholders, it is also a major obstacle to serious and much-needed reform of Irish forestry, to bring it into the 21st century and to comply with wider national objectives, such as protection of biodiversity.

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