The FSC sank to new levels of farce this week with a decision that in effect means that the organisation has lodged a complaint against itself.
As we reported a week ago an investigation by Oxfam has revealed that the FSC-certified New Forests Company in Uganda has been responsible for eviction of 22,500 people from their land. In addition to the video news piece about Oxfam’s report produced by the Guardian, Al Jazeera TV also reported on the evictions, including interviews with Kate Geary of Oxfam and Robert Devereux, the Chairman of New Forests Company.
In a response to the report, issued on October 24th, the FSC Secretariat has stated that “FSC takes the findings of the Oxfam report very seriously…FSC has filed an official complaint with SGS Qualifor in order to ensure that any allegations about contradictions with FSC’s Principles and Criteria – particularly with regards to violent evictions and unresolved land claims – are investigated with the utmost rigor”.
FSC asking SGS to investigate itself? That is the job of the Accreditation Services International (ASI), the former part of the FSC Secretariat that was spun out to become an independent organisation some years ago, and which has the responsiblity to independently verify that the certification companies accredited to the FSC (and other certification schemes, including the Marine Stewardship Council) are fulfilling the responsibilities and requirements set out for them by the FSC.
FSC-Watch wonders just what is going on here.
Perhaps the FSC no longer trusts the ASI to carry out proper assessments of whether the certifiers have broken the rules or not? It has good reason not to.
As we reported previously, ASI carried out an assessment of SGS’s certification of New Forests Company in 2010, finding little wrong. ASI’s report (opens pdf, 133Kb) noted that “The SGS Qualifor audit team conducted a professional and systematic surveillance audit. ASI audit team is satisfied that the CARs raised by SGS Qualifor during this audit address most of the nonconformity identified”. The ASI accreditation inspection of SGS resulted in the issuing of only three minor technical ‘Corrective Action Requests’ against SGS, and one ‘Observation’.
By issuing a ‘complaint’ against SGS (the wording of which has not been made public), FSC is basically admitting that ASI has not been doing its job properly. Because the FSC system as a whole relies on the certification companies to comply properly with the FSC’s requirements, the failure of ASI means that the system as a whole has failed. FSC might as well have issued a complaint against itself.
It only goes to show what chaos the FSC system is now in, that it is powerless to do anything directly to uphold the certification standards that its accredited certifiers are supposed to operate to. Under any sensible certification system, if the accreditation body (i.e, in this case FSC) were to find fault with a certifier, then that certifier could be struck off the list of accredited certifiers (as SGS should have been long ago).
Or there is another explanation. Perhaps the FSC Secretariat realises that, whatever it might find (yet again) about how SGS’s so-called certification system has failed all reasonable standards, nothing meaningful will result anyway, bearing in mind the stranglehold that the big certification companies have over the FSC. So FSC or ASI might as well save themselves the embarrassment of carrying out an investigation, finding fault and then doing nothing – and instead just let SGS carry out the investigation themselves, find nothing wrong and do nothing as a result.
This is much easier for all concerned, and means that everyone can quickly get back to the job of getting paid to issue certificates to companies that do not deserve them (and in some cases taking valuable ‘gifts’ from them at the same time), and pretending that all is well and good with the structure of the FSC system.
Organisations such as Oxfam, Greenpeace and even perhaps WWF will no doubt be wondering just how much worse things will get before they are forced to confront the fact that their membership of the FSC is helping to prop up an organisation that seems to have lost all control over its core purpose, and is now nothing but a constant embarrassment.