Controversy deepens over Veracel certification

The controversy over SGS Qualifor’s certification of Veracel deepened last week with two-pages of articles in the Brasil de Fato newspaper. The articles (in Portuguese, links below) note the recent court decision against Veracel, fining Veracel US$12.5 million and ruling that the company must remove eucalyptus trees covering an area of 96,000 hectares and replant native forest.

The articles also make several other serious criticisms of Veracel, based on an interview with João Alves da Silva, the public prosecutor in the town of Eunápolis, Bahia state. He has investigated the role of state authorities in issuing environmental permits to Veracel.

Here are the key points from the interview with João Alves da Silva:

  • The prosecution service is investigating the criminal responsibility of the state authorities for favouring Veracel during negotiations. Worse than the environmental degradation, da Silva says, is the fact that state officials failed to do their job of protecting the environment.
  • Da Silva accuses the CRA (Centro de Recursos Ambientais – the official state authority for environmental licensing and control) of practicing imporbidade administrativa (administrative misconduct).
  • He has found cases of non-payment of taxes and corruption.
  • Members of the local town council were “bought” through promises of financial support from Veracel in election campaigns. In return, the councillors did not approve a local law that would limit the area of eucalyptus plantations in the municipality.
  • Da Silva criticises Veracel for continually increasing its area of eucalyptus plantations while the area of land planted to food crops in the municipality of Eunápolis is decreasing. He notes that local landowners are pressured to sell land and that land prices have increased – meaning that only Veracel can afford to buy the land.

João Alves da Silva says that all the findings of the investigations will soon be issued to the Court.

It’s nice to see that the public authorities in Bahia state are investigating Veracel’s activities. SGS Qualifor apparently felt that wouldn’t be necessary before issuing the FSC certificate. The Public Summary of the Veracel assessment includes 40 pages of “stakeholder comments”. In its responses SGS Qualifor doesn’t waver once in its support of the company. SGS Qualifor provided Veracel with the best assessment that money can buy.

Given that Veracel in effect hired SGS Qualifor to provide a service, the monitoring and regulation of SGS Qualifor’s assessment is crucial. That’s where Accreditation Services International comes in. Shortly after SGS Qualifor issued its certificate of Veracel ASI carried out an audit of SGS Qualifor’s certification of Veracel. ASI wrote that the certification contained “a number of nonconformities with FSC accreditation requirements.” ASI has made similar (under)statements in previous audits of SGS Qualifor. Yet the certificate remains in place and SGS Qualifor remains accredited by FSC.

SGS Qualifor took a “business decision” to self-impose an “open-ended moratorium on the issuance of new FSC forest management certificates”. But at any moment SGS Qualifor could make a business decision to overturn the moratorium. A search using google (“moratorium” site:www.forestry.sgs.com) reveals no mention of any moratorium on issuing FSC certificates on SGS Qualifor’s website. FSC, it seems, has taken on the role of issuing SGS Qualifor’s business decisions.

Clearly, SGS Qualifor should not have issued the Veracel certificate, for the simple reason that Veracel’s activities are not in conformance to FSC’s standards. Equally clearly, it’s about time that FSC and ASI took some meaningful action against SGS Qualifor. An indefinite global suspension, for example. That could be followed by a thorough investigation of all SGS Qualifor’s previously issued certificates, cancelling them where necessary. Veracel would be a good place to start cancelling certificates.

Links

Luciana Silvestre, “Justiça condena Veracel Celulose por desmatar 96 mil ha de Mata Atlântica“, Brasil de Fato, 21 August 2008.

Luciana Silvestre, “Veracel compra servidores na Bahia para plantio irregular de eucalipto“,Brasil de Fato, 21 August 2008.

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