FSC is misleading consumers about paper products

An FSC label on paper products should ensure that the paper is produced from “environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests”. At least that’s what it says in the introduction to FSC’s Principles and Criteria. The unfortunate reality is that FSC has certified some of the most egregious industrial tree plantations in the world.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a report for the World Rainforest Movement looking at Europe’s role in supporting the expansion of industrial tree plantations and the pulp and paper industry in the global South. One section of the report looks at some of the actors who are helping the industry to expand. Through its certification of industrial tree plantations, FSC has become one of the actors helping to promote the expansion of the industry in the South.

When FSC was formed, it did not accept funding from industry. Since 2002, however, FSC has accepted money from the companies it is supposed to be regulating, “as long as no restrictions are attached which would affect the independence or integrity of FSC”. Pulp and paper giant Mondi was the “gold sponsor” of the recent General Assembly in South Africa. One of FSC’s certifying bodies, SGS, was another sponsor. It is difficult to see how this does not affect the independence and integrity of FSC.

Six years after announcing that it would carry out a Plantations Review, FSC has started to amend its Principles and Criteria. Based on the evidence so far, these amendments will make it even easier for FSC to certify industrial tree plantations. Criterion 6.3 should exclude the certification of any industrial tree plantations. It states:

Ecological functions and values shall be maintained intact, enhanced, or restored, including:

a) Forest regeneration and succession.

b) Genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity.

c) Natural cycles that affect the productivity of the forest ecosystem.

Industrial tree plantations have nothing to do with “Forest regeneration and succession”. They have nothing to do with “ecosystem diversity” and there are no “natural cycles” in plantations consisting of exotic species that are clearcut and replanted with rows of identical seedlings.

FSC’s Plantations Review Policy Working Group proposed that this Criterion should be interpreted as follows: “An FSC certified plantation will take an active approach to optimising its conservation strategy.” The interpretation bears no relation to the words used in the Criterion. In April this year, FSC’s Board of Directors published a draft version of proposed revisions to the Principles and Criteria. They go further than the Plantations Review Policy Working Group and propose deleting Criterion 6.3.

The attached report looks at the background to FSC certification of plantations, looks in detail at the problems with Principle 10 and at some of the worst plantation certificates that have been issued. It concludes that FSC should stop certifying industrial tree plantations.

Download the report “FSC: misleading consumers about paper products” (pdf file 182.5 kB).


One comment

  1. Thank you for your thorough oversight and reportage. We’re constantly seeing examples of “free market environmentalism” (talk about oxymorons) never accomplishing what was promised. The whole point of resource extraction industry greenspeak is to seize opportunities for exploitation, and rarely do they deliver consistently on promises made.

    They’re playing us for chumps and as long as we believe them, we will continue to enable their ruse. As Greenspan recently admitted to the world, free market theory pushing deregulation has proven to be fundamentally flawed.

    The fact is, the single-minded pursuit of profit taking has no self-regulating capacity and has demonstrated clearly that free market practitioners eat their own. Even shareholders get taken for a ride.

    This is an addictive disease and the afflicted cannot control themselves.

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