FSC Ireland lurches into new crisis as key NGOs withdraw support

FSC-Watch has reported numerous times on the shambles that is the FSC’s Irish Forest Certification Initiative (IFCI), and the associated certificate issued to the state forestry company, Coillte. After more than six years of discussion, consuming copious amounts of funding and stakeholders’ effort, IFCI has still failed to come up with a credible national standard.

Coillte, which controls 8% of the nation’s land, was certified in 2001 under a weak draft national standard. The company, who’s forestry practices have drawn widespread condemnation from environmentalists, has had much interest in ensuring that the national standard is not strengthened, and has kept a tight grip on IFCI. Many environmental and social stakeholders have remained outside the national initiative, citing multiple problems, including economic sector domination of the process, mis-management, and unprofessional behaviour.

Following a formal complaint from stakeholders, the FSC Secretariat stepped into this mess last month, as it had already been forced to several years ago. To his credit, Huberto Bonafos of the FSC’s ASI informed the IFCI that its latest draft national standard is still completely unacceptable.

In a well-meaning but flawed effort to resolve IFCI’s persistent problems, Bonafos invited a working group of stakeholders to try and reconstitute the process – but has then included in it some of the individuals who have long been at the centre of IFCI’s problems. Most environmental and social groups have now withdrawn from the process (see letter below), and from all engagement with the FSC. There now seems little hope of FSC rebuilding any credibility in Ireland unless the national process is completely reconstituted and work started afresh on a national standard.

Meanwhile, FSC-ASI’s report on the audit of Soil Association WoodMark, which now collects the certification fees from Coillte, has still not been published, 6 months after ASI carried out its inspection.

6th October 2007

Dear Mr Liedeker,

On 8th and 9th September, Hubert de Bonafos outlined a scheme designed to ensure proper procedures were put in place in IFCI in line with FSC requirements, and enable the development of a draft standard for Ireland that was in accordance with FSC requirements. The start point for this initiative is a meeting in Bonn on 12th October between three representatives, one for each chamber, facilitated by FSC, to develop a management plan for IFCI.

During the 9th September meeting M. de Bonafos agreed that it would be appropriate for excluded NGOs to propose candidates and thus to have representation at the meeting. This was viewed by excluded forestry and woodland NGOs as a major opportunity to play an important role in progressing, through FSC, the goals of sustainable forest management in Ireland.

It was with high hopes for real change and progress that the excluded NGOs proposed three candidates, one for each chamber. Each was chosen with their commitment to sustainable forest management firmly in mind. In addition care was taken to choose individuals known to be skilled in negotiation, with excellent knowledge of FSC, professional in approach, with experience in developing workable business plans and above all with a commitment to a fair and independent approach.

Our candidate for the Environmental Chamber was withdrawn after a short negotiation in favour of the candidate proposed by one of the IFCI Environmental Chamber members, FIE. This was done in order to minimise conflict and promote co-operation between included and excluded environmental groups as part of an ongoing bridge-building effort amongst NGOs.

Our candidate for the Social Chamber seat in Bonn was rejected by IFCI for unknown reasons. We are aware that our candidate is ideally suited to the role, is demonstrably better versed in FSC matters than the Social Chamber candidate and his independence, professionalism and commitment to SFM is unquestioned. Particularly in light of the well-publicised negotiation and compromise for the Environmental Chamber seat, the attitude of the Social Chamber in this case was a source of surprise and great disquiet among excluded NGO members. As our candidate is clearly unacceptable to the IFCI Social Chamber, any work carried out by this person will inevitably be viewed as equally unwanted. It is pointless attempting to force our candidate on IFCI and thus we must withdraw this nomination.

Our person put forward for the Economic Chamber position was ignored by the Economic Chamber. We have proposed an alternative candidate for this seat but have again received no response from the Economic Chamber.

It has been thus made abundantly clear that IFCI see no role for the excluded NGOs in the Bonn meeting initiative.

A representative for the excluded NGOs negotiated for two observer roles to attend IFCI meetings but was advised that two of our members were completely unacceptable by IFCI and thus excluded from even observing. This determination to exclude flies in the face of the core principles of FSC.

We are dismayed at the current stance of IFCI, particularly in light of the urgent need for inclusion, openness and transparency.

It now seems clear that IFCI have chosen to continue as they have done for the last eight years. The prospects for any real change in the operation of the Irish National Initiative therefore seem remote. Further, there seems no hope whatever that an intelligible, properly structured draft standard reflecting any interests but those of a small group within IFCI can be negotiated.

Therefore, the excluded NGOs in the Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders (IESS) Alliance and the groups, communities and individuals they represent formally withdraw from the Bonn meeting initiative and withdraw all support for IFCI and for FSC in Ireland.

Best regards,

Stiof MacAmhalghaidh

IESS Alliance calraige (at) eircom.net

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