Colombia: Is the FSC Seal Applied to Blood-Stained Timber?

In March 2007, FSC-watch posted the ‘verdict’ of the Peoples’ Permanent Tribunal on the company Pizano SA, which had been FSC certified by SmartWood. The Peoples’ Permanent Tribunal had been investigating the environmental and social impacts of companies in Colombia. Here’s some more information about this FSC-certified company from Miguel Ángel Soto, Greenpeace Spain, and Tom Kuchartz, Ecologistas en Acción. This article was published in the World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 123, October 2007:

Colombia: Is the FSC Seal Applied to Blood-Stained Timber?

Between 2001 and 2005, plywood panels manufactured by Pizano S.A., one of the largest timber companies in Colombia, could be purchased in the U.S. The panel was manufactured in part using timber from one of the plantations certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and in part from the natural forests in northeast Colombia, forests in which guerrilla organizations, paramilitary groups and the army fight for control of the territory and its natural resources. Consequently, these plywood panels were stained with blood.

How is it possible that the FSC permitted itself to be tainted with blood? The Pizano S.A. group is a major shareholder in Maderas del Darién, S.A., a timber company which heavily exploits forests in the watersheds of the Río Atrato tributaries in the Department of Chocó, which crosses the Colombian Pacific Reserve, a region noted for its high level of biodiversity. Forty percent of the timber supplies with which Pizano S.A. manufactures its plywood panel comes from these forests of such high ecological value. Moreover, illegal and destructive exploitation has significantly reduced the natural areas of “cativo” (Priora copaifera, sometimes referred to as Spanish walnut), a threatened species used to manufacture the plywood.

This company has worked at the same time and in the same space in which armed conflicts and military operations have taken place, causing the displacement of thousands of people beginning in 1997. Human rights violations, including murder, have been frequent and remain unpunished. Illegal logging is a serious problem and ownership of the land is the object of disputes frequently settled in court. With all of these ingredients, logging and the armed conflict have caused destruction to communities of African descent, deforesting their lands or turning them into oil palm plantations.

In 2000, during a preliminary evaluation of Pizano S.A., Smartwood met with Iniciativa Nacional de Colombia, and members of its executive board questioned the possible certification of this company. At that time, Pizano S.A., was already implicated in the conflict in the Department of Chocó. In the follow-up evaluation of 2005, the inter-ecclesial Justicia y Paz Colombia, an organization committed to defending human rights throughout Latin America, filed a formal complaint in which it stated that Maderas del Darién was responsible for human rights violations and environmental destruction in Darién, citing various documents and court rulings.

The complaint filed by Justicia y Paz Colombia was supported by numerous social and environmental organizations in Colombia and Spain (Greenpeace Spain and Ecologistas en Acción, among others). Later in 2005, these organizations asked Smartwood not to renew FSC certification for Pizano S.A. In addition, we informed FSC Executive Director Heiko Liedeker of these facts.

The links of Pizano S.A.’s subsidiary to the conflict have been made public in recent months. In May 2007, several news media outlets in Colombia published the accounts of former members of paramilitary groups who acknowledged that they had received financial support from Maderas del Darién. Smartwood was immediately informed of these facts.

However, all of this was not enough. On 17 July 2007, Smartwood informed the complaining organizations of its intentions to grant the FSC seal to the plantations of Pizano S.A. again. According to Smartwood, there is no evidence that the reported activities “have been carried out in the present or recent past.” This statement makes it clear that neither Smartwood nor the company deny that these activities did occur in the “non-recent past,” such as in 2005, when the company also had the FSC seal and Smartwood turned a deaf ear to the complaints of civil society.

According to Smartwood, Pizano S.A. has now pledged to adopt the FSC controlled wood standard under which timber of illegal origin, timber from forests of high conservation value or timber exploited in violation of traditional and civil rights, is unacceptable.

Smartwood’s failure to keep illegal and destructive wood out of the FSC supply chain in Colombia is another hard blow to the credibility and prestige of the FSC. To date, no Smartwood auditor has visited the Darién region and there is still no established mechanism, registry or system to ensure that timber resulting from the destruction of forests of high ecological value, illegal logging or violence, is not mixed with timber from the certified plantations of Pizano S.A. to manufacture the plywood panels – plywood panels on which the FSC label may be stained with blood. Furthermore, FSC International has failed to give clear guidance on the exclusion of highly controversial companies such as Pizano, from the FSC system.

By Miguel Ángel Soto, Greenpeace Spain, e-mail: masoto(AT)es.greenpeace.org, and Tom Kuchartz, Ecologistas en Acción, e-mail: eea_comisioninternacional2(AT)yahoo.es

Note: earlier this year, FSC-Watch also reported that a company (Chuiquita Brands) that had been ‘certified’ under another Rainforest Alliance scheme – the ‘Better Banana’ programme – had been found by a US Court to have also been working with Colombian terrorist organisations.

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