Certification of Vasto Legno/SEFAC, Cameroon; Another major blow to FSC’s credibility

FSC-Watch has received unconfirmed reports that the Italian certification company ICILA has issued a certificate to the Cameroonian Groupe SEFAC, which is owned by Italian timber company Vasto Legno. Although the Public Summary report of the certification is not yet available on ICILA’s website, sufficient details have already emerged to suggest that this will come as yet another major blow to FSC’s credibility.

The Vasto Legno subsidiary SEFAC (Société d’Exploitations Forestières et Agricoles du Cameroun), has been logging in the rainforests Cameroon’s Eastern province for more than three decades. The company drew praise from HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, who visited their operations in his capacity as President of WWF in 1999.

However, SEFAC also has a long record of ‘infractions’ and illegal activities. In the same year as Prince Philip’s visit, a Cameroonian government Forestry Ministry inspection of one of SEFAC’s concessions (which has now been FSC certified) found, according to Forests Monitor, “anarchic” and illegal operations, including logging outside concession boundaries and cutting undersized logs, especially Sapelli”, which is Cameroon’s most prized timber. Forests Monistor also report that in 2000, “SEFAC was fined and its activities suspended for three months. It was subsequently disqualified by the government from the allocation of new concessions in July 2000 for serious wrongdoing in its forestry activities”. A 2003 inspection by the official Cameroon Independent Observer of forests in one of the now-certified concessions noted that the company had failed to mark cut stumps as required by the law and had re-opened old tracks, also an infraction. A further inspection of one of SEFAC’s concessions by the Official Observer in August 2006 found similar problems, and also that the company could not produce its annual felling plan. In another concession, neither the five-year management plan nor the annual felling plan were available, suggesting that, whilst these documents had been submitted to the Cameroonian authorities for legal compliance reasons, they were not actually used to guide the logging operations.

But the most serious problem is whether the company should be logging its concessions at all. The new certificates apparently cover 318,893 hectares out of 411,872 hectares which the company directly controls through four concessions. In its March 2006 ‘pre-audit’ report, the certifier states: “Groupe SEFAC represents 3 different companies because, legally, no company can individually control a series of logging concessions exceeding 200,000 ha (see Section 49, Law 94/01). It’s for this reason that three companies were formed, in order to manage a total of 600,000 ha, even if at present they manage only 2/3 of their potential.” [1] (emphasis added)

However, Section 49 of Cameroon’s 1994 Forestry Law stipulates that: “The total forest area that may be granted to any one licence-holder […] may not, in any case, exceed 200,000 hectares. The acquisition of majority shares or the creation of a forest exploitation company by a forest exploiter with the intention of exploiting a total area of more than 200,000 hectares shall be forbidden.”

SEFAC is a member of WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network, whose website further confirms that their ‘partner’ holds concession areas far in excess of the legal maximum set out in the 1994 Forest Law.

This is only the 12th certificate issued by ICILA for FSC, and perhaps the certifier hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet. We suggest to FSC that it asks ICILA to go back and check carefully whether SEFAC is in serious breach of FSC Principle 1 – and we invite ICILA to present evidence on FSC-Watch that it has done so. Hopefully, ICILA will not want to be seen to be following the footsteps of some of FSC’s other larger certifiers who continue to treat Principle 1 with utter disregard.

[1] Original in French states: “Rapport de pré-audit pour la certification du Groupe SEFAC – Douala Cameroun. Rapport de pré-audit de la gestion forestière.” “Le Groupe SEFAC représente 3 sociétés différentes car, légalement, aucune société ne peut avoir individuellement en gestion un ensemble de concessions forestières qui dépasse au total 200.000 ha (cfr. art. 49, Loi forestière 94/01). C’est pour ce motif que 3 sociétés ont été constituées, pour pouvoir gérer au total 600.000 ha, même si actuellement elles ne gèrent que 2/3 de leur potentiel.”

Report on ‘official corruption’ in Cameroon’s forest sector is available here (note: original was in French): ReportfromMinistryofForestryandWildlife.doc

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