FSC has some explaining to do about SGS’s “moratorium”

In July 2008, FSC announced that “SGS South Africa, an FSC accredited certification body, has made a business decision to adopt an open-ended moratorium on the issuance of new FSC forest management certificates.” I wrote to FSC with some questions about the moratorium. FSC has so far declined to respond. The emails are below.

The “moratorium” did not prevent SGS from issuing certificates to clients with which SGS had already signed contracts. The “moratorium” did not apply to chain of custody certificates, which SGS continued to issue.

Predictably, SGS has now decided to lift the “moratorium”. Here’s the statement on the lifting of the moratorium, from SGS’s website, dated 17 October 2008:

SGS has put in place a step-by-step program to lift the moratorium on the offering of FSC Forest Management certification services. These steps are:

  1. SGS will assess the risks associated with each Forest Management project ahead of the project start. This assessment will define how each project will be managed and evaluated;
  2. SGS has introduced a new, enhanced training program for all its FSC Forest Management auditors. This is a part of the continuous improvement program SGS run for its team of auditors;
  3. SGS has evaluated each of its geographical markets and will lift the moratorium in a phased and a controlled manner.

So, after issuing a series of extremely dubious certificates and facing increasing criticism, SGS decided to impose a “moratorium”. The “moratorium” was both self-imposed and and, as far as we can tell, self-regulated. Four months later, once the heat was off, SGS decided to lift the “moratorium”. The dodgy certificates are still in place. FSC and Accreditation Services International have failed to take any meaningful action against SGS.

From: Chris Lang
To: communications[AT]fsc.org
cc: info[AT]fsc-watch.org, teresap[AT]wrm.org.uy, info[AT]accreditation-services.com
Date: 22 October 2008 06:16
Subject: Re: SGS moratorium

Dear FSC Communications Department,

On 3 September 2008, I wrote to Patricia Dudeck about SGS’s “moratorium” on signing new contracts for assessing forest management operations. As I have not received a reply, I am resending the email (below). I look forward to your reply.

I have some further questions:

  1. Is the “moratorium” still in place?
  2. Will FSC make an announcement when the “moratorium” is lifted?
  3. Is FSC or ASI monitoring how SGS is implementing its “moratorium”? If so, how?

Thank you for your time. Please consider your response to be on the record.

Regards, Chris Lang

From: Chris Lang
To: p.dudeck[AT]fsc.org [*]
cc: info[AT]fsc-watch.org, teresap[AT]wrm.org.uy
Date: 3 September 2008 10:52
Subject: SGS moratorium

Dear Patricia,

I’m writing concerning the “SGS moratorium on new FSC forest management certificates”, announced via the FSC website on 4 July 2008. According to the statement on the FSC website, SGS made a “business decision to adopt an open-ended moratorium on theissuance of new FSC forest management certificates” (my emphasis).

Since 4 July 2008, SGS has issued 14 new FSC certificates (see the attached screenshot from fsc-info.org).

When I asked SGS about this, Gerrit Marais told me that “The moratorium came into place on 29th May 2008, however at this point, SGS obviously had already signed contracts for certification services which have to be concluded and it stands to reason that certificates would still be issued post this date.”

I would be very grateful if you could answer the following questions:

  1. How many more of these in-the-pipeline certificates might we see before the moratorium actually starts?
  2. The headline “SGS moratorium on new FSC forest management certificates” is misleading, since SGS continues to issue new certificates. Wouldn’t you agree that it should say “SGS moratorium on signing new contracts for assessing forest management operations”?
  3. Could you please send me a copy of SGS’s announcement of its “moratorium”.
  4. Is the moratorium a pre-emptive move by SGS in an attempt to avoid censure from FSC and/or ASI?
  5. The statement on FSC’s website states that “SGS indicated that it remains committed to FSC’s objectives”. But according to a press release issued on 12 August 2008 by Asia Pulp and Paper, SGS certified APP’s operations in Sumatra under the PEFC system earlier this year. FSC has dissociated with APP noting in a December 2007 statement that “There is substantial publicly available information that suggests that APP, a Sinar Mas subsidiary, is associated with destructive forestry practices.” Please explain how SGS can possibly issue a PEFC certificate to APP and remain “committed to FSC’s objectives”.

Please consider your response to be on-the-record.

Regards, Chris Lang


[*FSC’s announcement, via its website stated: “For further information, please contact the FSC Communications Program at p.dudeck@fsc.org.” Dudeck was a communications intern at FSC. She now appears to have left the organisation (she is no longer listed on the FSC International Staff webpage) and FSC’s announcement now states that we should contactcommunications@fsc.org for further information.


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