Veracel: A test case for the FSC

This month’s WRM Bulletin includes an editorial about FSC’s certification of industrial tree plantations and two articles about the assessment of Veracel, which is currently being carried out by SGS. The editorial and the two articles are reproduced in full below:

From WRM Bulletin 121 – August 2007

And here’s what Veracel’s plantations look like:

Veracel 4

Veracel 3

FSC Certification of Veracel: A turning point or business as usual?
For over a decade WRM has been gathering, producing and disseminating information and analysis on the social and environmental impacts of fast wood plantations, characterized as large-scale, fast-growth tree monocultures. At the same time, we have been stressing that such plantations should not be certified, focusing on the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), this being the scheme certifying most of such plantations.
In spite of having launched in September 2004 a plantation certification review, the FSC has continued to certify fast wood plantations, thus undermining its own credibility and weakening local struggles against plantations. The Working Group established to study the issue presented its final report to the FSC Board in October 2006, but nothing seems to have changed since and the FSC has continued to certify uncertifiable fast wood plantations.
Within this context, the FSC-accredited firm SGS started to carry out the certification process of a company -Veracel Celulose- with a long and well-documented history of negative social and environmental impacts in Bahia, Brazil (see article below). The news about the possible certification of Veracel resulted in strong reactions by numerous organizations from Bahia and other parts of Brazil, that have been for years suffering the impacts and campaigning against these and other fast wood plantations. Although they were never formally “consulted” by SGS, they managed to make their voices heard.
In support to their opposition, a number of organizations -among which WRM- expressed their concerns to the FSC Board in a letter (http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Brazil/Letter_Board.html) dated 6 July, inviting Board members to visit the area accompanied by Brazilian organizations. The letter said that “during the visit, you will be able to meet with local communities and have first hand knowledge about their opinion on those plantations as well as their perception of the company seeking certification.”
The letter added that “such visit will provide you with a better understanding on why certification of plantations such as these is being opposed by so many organizations throughout the world and why the FSC looses credibility every time plantations like those of Veracel are FSC certified”.
However, the Board declined the invitation, responding that “We do not think that it is appropriate or the role of the board to intervene in a public consultation process nor directly in a certification evaluation”. (http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Brazil/Board_letter_07.pdf)
The obvious question is: then what is the Board’s role? The future of the little of what’s left of FSC’s credibility is at stake and the Board thinks it is not “appropriate” to intervene? Is turning a blind eye on the certification of fast wood plantations the role that the Board chooses to play? If this is the case, then the proposal put forward by one of our Brazilian partners would make sense. He said: “our campaign should not be focused on saying that Veracel does not deserve FSC; what we must now say is that FSC and Veracel deserve each other!”
The case of Veracel’s plantations is absolutely clear and well documented. In no way can these plantations be considered to be an “environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests”, and their certification would clearly violate the FSC mandate. Local people -the true stakeholders- are there to prove this to whoever is willing to ask them their opinion.
But it is also important to stress that Veracel is but a drop within a sea of millions of hectares of fast wood plantations already FSC-certified by SGS, SCS, Smartwood and other certification firms, that have made a mockery of the FSC system, through “consultation” processes that never consulted the true stakeholders and whose evaluations never took into account the full extent of the social and environmental impacts of such plantations.
Veracel must clearly not receive FSC certification, but at the same time it is essential that the FSC cease to certify fast wood plantations and that it begins to de-certify a large number of plantations that should have never received the FSC label. Only then will the FSC be able to comply with its own mandate.
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Brazil: The impossible certification of Veracel
Veracel Celulose – a joint venture between the Swedish-Finnish company Stora Enso and the Norwegian-Brazilian company Aracruz Celulose – has launched a process to obtain FSC certification for its eucalyptus plantations in the extreme south of the State of Bahia. For this purpose, it has hired the consulting firm SGS.
This has led to a strong reaction on the part of over 300 Brazilian and international organizations that on 14 August sent a letter to FSC and SGS (available at:http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Brazil/Letter_Veracel.html) denouncing Veracel, contesting the process and demanding that certification should not be granted.
The fact is that Veracel has a long record of noxious actions in the area. Its eucalyptus plantations have occupied part of the lands that historically belonged to the indigenous population of the Extreme South of Bahia, thus violating its indigenous territorial rights. Logging and indiscriminate use of poisons in river areas and near springs are practiced by the company, thus making it very hard to consider it as being “environmentally responsible.”
Among other damages denounced the letter refers to the problem with water which is being affected by Veracel’s monoculture tree plantations both in quantity and quality, and the company’s contribution to the migration of the rural population.
The organizations signing the letter sent on 14 August also contest the process for assessment and recognition carried out by the certifier company SGS. Contrary to what could be understood as a true consultation, the certifier did not duly contact the social organizations in the area that are actively involved in the problems caused by Veracel. On the morning of 23 July it made a phone call to the well-known organization CEPEDES to tell them that they would only be available that day or the following day to hold a meeting with the Extreme South Socio-Environmental Forum. The lack of time prevented the meeting from taking place because the organizations already had prior engagements. And, as is denounced in the letter, various organizations were not even aware of the process.
The scant organizations – members of the Socio-Environmental Forum of the Extreme South – that did receive a form to be answered, sent a letter to SGS requesting a meeting and inviting it to a field visit together with organized civil society organizations that have been operating in the area for many years, as the auditors sent by the certifier were not from the region and did not know the Extreme South of Bahia. But SGS did not address this request.
It is also denounced that the auditors only dedicated five days for the field assessment in the ten localities comprised in the area where the company carries out its activities, which comprises a total area of 1,421,773 km2. Something which is humanly impossible!
As stated by the organizations making the complaint, “we consider that a company such as Veracel Celulose, one of the symbols of the ‘development’ model imposed in an arbitrary, illegal and violent way, giving rise to serious negative consequences and causing violence, poverty and hunger to the people of the Extreme South of Bahia, cannot be considered as ‘environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable.'”
This joint action bore its fruit. On 22 August, the Executive Director of FSC, Heiko Liedeker, answered the letter sent by the social organizations, expressing his gratefulness for the contribution made to the certification process, which he qualified as “valuable.”
He also reported that this information had been sent to the certifying body accredited by FSC – that assesses whether Veracel complies with FSC standards – and to Accreditation Services International (ASI) that is responsible for accrediting and supervising certifying bodies – in this case SGS.
Finally, Liedeker invited the organizations to continue sending information and expressing their concerns to FSC authorities.
The process continues. Those who should be listened to have raised their voices and made themselves heard by getting organized and by mobilizing. The inhabitants of the Extreme South of Bahia continue to be alert, in the expectation that FSC will say what needs to be said vis-à-vis Veracel’s “fast wood” plantations: that their certification is impossible.
Article based on the letter sent to FSC and SGS: “Arguments to show that Veracel should not receive certification”, http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Brazil/Letter_Veracel.html)
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The reasons why Veracel cannot be certified, seen from the standpoint of society
Once again, Stora Enso and Aracruz are using their economic power to mislead and wheedle. In addition to misleading and wheedling the Brazilian people, they are now misleading and wheedling Northern society with the aim of increasing the price of their products, increasing their sales and therefore, their profits! With this purpose, the Veracel pulp company presented itself voluntarily to FSC certification and resorted to SGS ICS, with headquarters in Sao Paulo, as certifying body. It set up the scenery for a theatrical event, in which the actors belong to the company and the public comprises financed partners to show that no conflicts exist. Once more, society was left out. Once again the story is told in a way that is advantageous to the companies, by people who have no commitments or responsibilities towards the environment, the future of forthcoming generations and the planet. Faced by this, society reacts and argues:
The reasons why Veracel cannot receive certification:
In one of the speeches at the Sixth Assembly of the Pataxo Front for Resistance and Struggle, held on 17, 18 and 19 August, in tears Marlene Pataxo from the village of Meio da Mata spoke of the difficulties her people are undergoing. “Veracel says that it has a society with the Pataxo Indians, this is a lie. That company invaded our territory and planted eucalyptus trees. This cost our people a very high price, they are now cornered and frightened because the company has private security services in the eucalyptus plantation to prevent the Indians from exercising their right to come and go freely according to our culture, our habits. Our springs and our rivers are contaminated by the poison used in the plantation. I am the mother of 14 children; I need to ensure their rights and their sustenance. Therefore, I implore the authorities to determine the end of the eucalyptus plantation on our lands under the dominion of Veracel Celulose, which continues to attack our environment. A company that acts in this way and that causes the death of my people can never receive certification.”
The Movement of Landless Rural Workers – MST – defends the granting of Brazilian land to Brazilian workers and not to companies such as Veracel that take over our natural resources, exploit our work force and send their profits outside Brazil. “We need to plant food to feed our people,” says Cabacinha, a member of the MST. For him it is shameful that a region such as this, with so much natural wealth and with a climate suited to agriculture, has so many people going hungry. “The advance of eucalyptus plantations is evicting small farmers because of the pressure of agribusiness or because of isolation in the middle of the green desert,” says Evanildo Costa, a member of the state board of directors of MST.
Eliezer Lucas Tavares Leite, an agronomist and a farmer, affirms that certification of Veracel means people will continue to be killed and condemned to death. “We used to be the greatest fruit-growers in the world. The number of jobs generated annually for the population amounted to 28,497. We can in no way compare this with the ridiculous number of 741 jobs generated by the company. Many families are going hungry, violence increases every day. With certification in their power, the company will surely increase the plantation of eucalyptus, further compromising our sustenance.”
Melquíades Spínola, an environmentalist and member of CEPEDES, emphasizes that we are facing a ‘green hell’ because nothing survives this destruction. “Nature and people are agonizing. There is a lack of work, a lack of food, a lack of scenic beauty, to which we have a right. Here in the region of the extreme south, after the plantation of eucalyptus, a violent reduction in biodiversity took place, with the extermination of fauna and flora, reduction of water courses, soil and water contamination due to an excessive use of poisons. Various rivers and streams are drying up. They are planting eucalyptus in the cities, in the graveyards and in Permanent Preservation zones, which is banned by law. They respect neither the living nor the dead. People have lost their land, their culture and are loosing their dignity.” He adds: “The only perfect thing in Veracel is the fertile minds and intellectual capacity of the company’s directors and officials in inventing so many lies, so much deception, and their skill in concealing the truth. It is a crime against humanity to grant certification to a company such as Veracel.”
The rate of progress of eucalyptus plantations in the southern region of Bahia by Veracel Celulose, is causing a lot of concern, affirm the representatives of CIMI, southern region, the Land Pastoral Commission, the Centre for Studies and Social Action, the Movement of Landless Workers, the Cedula de la Tierra – Sur, Peasant Youth and Tupinamba indians. It has been observed that the “plague” has already reached some villages in the southern region, damaging the sustenance of rural workers. “The land reform is being invalidated due to the lack of land in the extreme south and also in the southern region of Bahia,” we are told by Jairson, a member of the Farm Workers Federation (Fetag/Ba) and of the Rural Workers Trade Union.
Organizations from the south and extreme south of Bahía have met in search for a regional undertaking in which rural and urban societies play the leading role and in which activities not only use economic rationality but also environmental and human rationality, compatible with the culture of the local population and social and environmental sustainability.
For all these reasons, society is taking a very firm position: tree plantations are not FORESTS and should not be certified for the above mentioned reasons and because they directly and indirectly evict people from rural areas, mainly small farmers, causing a lack of food and an increase in the price of foodstuffs, they concentrate land in the hands of a few, leaving most of the people without an opportunity to gain their sustenance, they increase unemployment in rural areas, increase the number of unemployed families in belts surrounding the cities, increase violence and prostitution, that is to say, that plantations result in profound social, environmental and economic impacts.
Sent by: Ivonete Gonçalves, Cedpedes
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