Oxfam report: 22,500 people evicted to make way for FSC certified plantations in Uganda

On 22 September 2011, Oxfam released a report about a UK-based company called New Forests. Oxfam’s researchers visited the company’s plantations in Uganda and found that more than 22,000 people were kicked off the land to make way for the company’s monocultures. Oxfam made public what FSC’s certifying body, SGS, had somehow managed to ignore for the past two years. Accreditation Services International (ASI) in turn found out nothing about the evictions when it carried out an audit of SGS in 2010. New Forests Company has put out a statement explaining that it “takes Oxfam’s allegations extremely seriously and will conduct an immediate and thorough investigation”.

FSC’s response? Nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch. There is no mention of the company on FSC’s website. It is not listed on FSC’s list of current disputes.

Here’s a short video produced by The Guardian and below that an article from REDD-Monitor about the certification. As mentioned in that article, the Oxfam report was widely reported. FSC’s failure to respond publicly to this disgrace is inexplicable.

Ugandan farmers kicked off their land for New Forests Company’s carbon project

REDD-Monitor, 23 September 2011

A report released yesterday by Oxfam International documents how more than 22,000 people in Uganda were evicted to make way for a carbon offset tree plantation established by a London-based firm called New Forests Company. While this is not a REDD project, it provides an early warning of how “standards” and “safeguards” can be willfully ignored.

New Forests Company (NFC) was formed in 2004. The company now has projects covering a total of 90,000 hectares in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda. Investors in the company include the Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, which in turn is backed by the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation and the European Investment Bank. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) owns about 20% of NFC and has a seat on its board. These investors have social and environmental standards to which NFC should comply.

Oxfam’s report, “The New Forests Company and its Uganda Plantations”, can be downloaded here (pdf file 208.7 KB). The story has been reported in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and on AlJazeera.

NFC has been certified under the Forest Stewardship Council since 2009 – despite the fact that less than two months after the certificate was awarded, more than 10,000 villagers petitioned Uganda’s Lands Minister to stop NFC from evicting them from their land.

This is a company that, at least superficially, appears to be doing all the right things. Oxfam describes FSC as “the global gold standard for forestry best practice”, yet Oxfam’s report found that about 22,500 people were evicted to make way for NFC’s plantations. None of them has received any compensation.

NFC denies that so many people were evicted and denies that company employees were involved in the evictions, instead blaming the Ugandan authorities for the evictions.

The problems are serious. Oxfam International’s report, written by Kate Geary and Matt Grainger[1] states that,

Today, the people evicted from the land are desperate, having been driven into poverty and landlessness. In some instances they say they were subjected to violence and their property, crops, and livestock destroyed. They say they were not properly consulted, have been offered no adequate compensation, and have received no alternative land.


NFC claims that people vacated the land “voluntarily and peacefully”. But one of the evicted people told Oxfam that,

“My land was taken by the New Forests Company. People from New Forests came with other security forces and started destroying crops and demolishing houses and they ordered us to leave. They beat people up, especially those who could not run. We ran in a group, my children, my grandchildren, my wife and me. It was such a painful time because the eviction was so forceful and violent.”


NFC describes the people evicted as “encroachers” who were “illegally occupying land leased to an independent third party, NFC”. The government also describes them as “illegal encroachers”. The people evicted explained to Oxfam that they did have lawful entitlement to the land. Some of them had lived there for more than 40 years. Others were Second World War veterans and their descendants who were “allocated the land in recognition of service”.

SGS, the company that carried out the assessment for the FSC certification (pdf file, 452.8 KB), states that the people’s claims to the land are “highly dubious”, which is, of course, exactly what NFC wants to hear. There is a conflict of interest at the heart of the FSC system, in that SGS audits are paid for by the company being audited, in this case SGS’s assessment was paid for by NFC. When Oxfam spoke to lawyers representing the community members, they were told that the land dispute cases are still active.

Reading SGS’s public summary of the assessment gives little clue of any problems. “[I]t is clear that the company has been successful in gaining the support of local communities,” SGS writes, after interviewing 41 employees, contractors, health and education officials, local government officials and community members.

FSC has a process for making sure that its certifying bodies (such as SGS) are in fact checking that certified companies (such as NFC) comply to FSC’s standards. A company called Accreditation Services International (ASI) carries out audits of the certifying body, including visits to certified operation. In 2010, ASI visited NFC’s plantations as part of its audit of SGS Qualifor (pdf file, 133.2 KB). ASI found little to criticise: “The SGS Qualifor audit team conducted a professional and systematic surveillance audit.”

None of the financiers involved managed to find anything wrong with NFC’s operations:

    • IFC reviewed NFC’s plantation operations as part of its due diligence for its US$7 million equity investment in Agri-Vie, the private equity fund whose portfolio includes NFC. IFC decided that NFC had complied to its standard on resettlement “to the extent allowed by the Government”.


    • The European Investment Bank has invested US$12 million in Agri-Vie, US$5.65 million of which goes to NFC. EIB also has Environmental and Social Principles and Standards, which include a standard on involuntary resettlement. EIB found nothing wrong with NFC’s operations in Uganda.


  • HSBC has invested about US$10 million in NFC, an investment that was “subject to the company obtaining FSC certification for its operations”, according to SGS’s assessment report. HSBC’s judgement of whether NFC complies to its sustainability policies relies heavily on whether the company keeps its FSC certification.

Somehow, these investors have managed, with the help of FSC, SGS and ASI, to make 22,500 evicted people disappear completely.

Of course the people evicted have not disappeared. One of the people evicted to make way for NFC’s carbon plantations told Oxfam, “I lost land. I’m landless. Land was my life. I have no rights. It’s like I’m not a human being.”

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the authors of the Oxfam report and have worked with both of them in the past.

Back to text ^^



  1. This is the response I got from FSC International:

    FSC takes the findings of the Oxfam report very seriously, and will investigate the issue thoroughly to ensure that Principle 2 requiring demonstrated land tenure and use rights, as well as all other relevant principles and criteria, are upheld.

    The findings from a recent Oxfam study were brought to the attention of FSC in late September. The Oxfam report reveals serious land tenure concerns. The certified operations in question related to licenses held by the New Forests Company operating FSC certified plantations covering 12,607 hectares. The operations were certified by FSC accredited certification body SGS in March 2009, and are in the Mubende and Kiboga districts of Uganda.

    Accreditation Services International (ASI) performed an assessment audit of SGS at NFC in February 2010 with local experts and a full stakeholder consultation. FSC has determined that the process of certification made by SGS Qualifor did evaluate the change in land use on the government owned land where NFC obtained a land lease from the National Forestry Authority.

    Findings from the Oxfam report indicate that outstanding claims related to land ownership and use rights were not fully considered and may have escalated since the evaluation. FSC will thoroughly investigate the situation in Kiboga and Mubende in a transparent process where all findings are publicly available to stakeholders. Our priority is to ensure that any contradictions with the FSC Principles and Criteria are remedied.

    The FSC system is designed so that stakeholder concerns are addressed in the certification process. Where this intention is not fully realized, additional measures exist to ensure that concerns and disputes are addressed to the fullest extent required by the FSC Principles and Criteria. Working with Oxfam and all relevant stakeholders, FSC will ensure that the concerns regarding the NFC certified operations will be given full consideration and that any disputes or non-compliance will be resolved.

  2. Thanks Leo! I wonder why FSC doesn’t post something like this on its website. I’d feel slightly more inclined to believe that “FSC takes the findings of the Oxfam report very seriously” if they did so.

    This sentence from FSC’s response is very interesting: “Accreditation Services International (ASI) performed an assessment audit of SGS at NFC in February 2010 with local experts and a full stakeholder consultation.” It is clear from the video that the Guardian produced (and from the Oxfam report) that the people affected by NFC’s plantations do not believe that a “full stakeholder consultation” took place.

    And a reminder: the people evicted petitioned the government about NFC’s plantations in July 2009, less than two months after SGS awarded the certificate (http://bit.ly/3lXdsX). Why didn’t SGS and ASI speak to some of these people during their visits to Uganda in 2010?

  3. hello Chris,
    …..doesnt matter if FSC write it on there website or not. All informations there are more or less the same: All is running perfect, (——–sometimes not, but this is systemirrelevant).who want to read this all time again, me not….
    if somone#s land is stolen, or somebody shot, or important stakeholders are forgotten to ask, what matters the FSC. if there is a lawproblem, shit happened.
    if, and only if there is a problem, its not the matter of FSC, its the matter of CBs….they try to tell us.
    They are unable to manage somethink, simple the truth.
    So the empty paper YOu have posted today (Gibson/RA) is exactelly the full inforamtion we will get from FSC, means: All infos You get, its not worth the virtual paper printed on it…

    But they, the FSC, will wake up from there dream, and then its too late, they will see, that the nice dream changed into a nightmare…
    Who leave FSC now(or have allready done) (and dont delete a “discussion” on Facebook like RA have done), will win. Not only ethical!
    FSC will be, is, in the shit, the devils tehy called, will/are biten me…
    Congratualtions FSC!

  4. FSC put a statement online a few days ago (http://www.fsc.org/news.html?&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=1883&cHash=8af2efb8e19bb10a701bc37dfd733d3e)

    I agree with you, Chris. If SGS Qualifor didn’t look into the case, then at least ASI should have. That makes not only SGS Qualifor, but also ASI responsible for the certification of the uncertifiable!

    True Gerriet, again the facts are twisted. The Certification Body is guilty, not FSC. If FSC would have taken FSC-watch or the World Rainforest Movement seriously, they would have known for years about the human right violations that are going on in FSC-certified plantations in Uganda. But sadly enough FSC only acts after bad media exposure.

    Imported facts:
    SGS Qualifor, the certifier led by Gerrit Marais, granted the New Forest Company the FSC-label for its plantations in Uganda. This same SGS Qualifor, led by the same Gerrit Marais, is suspended in Brazil for the very controversial certification of Veracel, a pulp company in Brazil with a similar crime record as the New Forest Company. It makes you wonder how many other bad companies SGS Qualifor, led by Gerrit Marais, has granted the FSC-label. It also makes you wonder why FSC doesn’t suspend SGS-Qualifor internationally. It is cristal clear that this certifier is not following the FSC-standard, it is just selling FSC-labels.

    Oxfam’s position.
    Oxfam-Belgium, member of FSC-Belgium, didn’t want to give a statement. I don’t have the impression Oxfam-Belgium will take further steps. Someone from Oxfam-Belgium told me they don’t want to generalize, but look at FSC ‘case by case’.

    Oxfam should keep in mind that it will take at least one year and a half before the New Forest Company will loose its FSC-label. That is the time we are waiting for the suspension of Veracel, but still nothing much has happenend, except for the suspension of the certifier SGS Qualifor. In the mean time these companies continue to sell ‘responsible’ paper, wood, or carbon credits.

    I am afraid FSC will have to make drastic changes if it wants the certification system to work.

  5. hello,
    answering to Leo and others in other discussions…
    its a “bit complicate” with the responsability in this system, take care!
    Its not true, like FSC try to say, that the CBs are responsable. FSC wish so, but the fact is another!!!
    FSC is the system of certificating (which want to have strong market), and the CB act more or less in “there name”. FSC gave them the right to do so with a contract what is strongly hidden. And when they, the CBs, dont do there job well, FSC is the namend sanctionaters (but FSC have no interested in any sanctions! the CBs are only the implementing organ of FSC. And so, at the end, in a court, FSC is the responsable Systemmaker. i will not attac the CBs in my court, i will attac the system, so FSC! this is very important at the end.
    FSC will and try to say us, that they are not responsabel, but when they arent, the system is only a playground of hugh money.
    Here is the serious question to the FSC: Why shall be the CBs be responsabable and not the FSC system itself for anything happen in the system FSC?? when the CBS are in real the responsable organ, then FSC must immidiatelly say to several gouverments in Europe that they must ignore them in the system of warranty legality and sustainable wood exploation.
    Its again a big lie from the FSC, dont believe anything what they will say You!
    FSC will try to dont do anything against there CBs, because immidiatelly then they loose a lot of certified areas, so they have no interest to do. They search other victims who can be responsable, like a little child.
    But they will fall down in there own trap very very soon! and i will not have one tear for this corrupt and fraud system when its die (hope it do before more forests are killed in response of FSC system)
    more will follow soon….

  6. I wonder whether Oxfam takes the response from FSC seriously? I think if I were them I would be considering resigning my membership of FSC unless this certificate is suspended immediately, along with SGS’s accreditation.

    Hopefully Oxfam will not be seduced into wasting their time starting a formal complaint against the NFC certificate, because like all other formal complaints in the past, it would have no effect whatsoever.

  7. Equally complicit are large U.S. nonprofits whose governments fund the Uganda government who originated the use of child soldiers. They specifically only condemn Kony and not U.S. intervention or U.S. funding and support of Ugandan dictator Gen. Museveni because they want a chunk of the funding that 70 million Kony 2012 viewers could provide them.

    The nonprofit industrial complex is part of the problem. Shame on Amnesty USA.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s