Veracel: “Sustainable on Paper” thanks to FSC

On 13 March 2008, SGS Qualifor awarded an FSC certificate for Veracel’s monoculture eucalyptus plantations in Bahia, Brazil. WRM announced that this was FSC’s “Death Certificate”.

In 2010, two Belgian journalists, Leopold Broers and An-Katrien Lecluyse, spent three months investigating the impact of Veracel’s monoculture eucalyptus plantations on local communities. They made a documentary, titled, “Sustainable on Paper”, based on interviews carried out in Bahia and Belgium:

Broers and Lecluyse listened not only to the company’s point of view, but spent time finding out what local communities think about the project. José Fragoso is leader of the Pataxó community Tiba. The journalists asked him whether Veracel deserves the FSC certificate. “I don’t think so,” he replied. “The label is only intended to deceive people who don’t know about this.”

The deception is well illustrated by Sergio Alpio, Veracel’s CEO. In 2007, nearly 350 organisations signed a letter to the Forest Stewardship Council, titled, “Arguments to show that Veracel should not receive certification”. Many of the organisations that signed the letter are from Brazil. Nevertheless, in the film Alipio states that, “In one year and a half, Veracel got eight inspection visits for the certification, although normally it should have been two. There were eight inspections, because a couple of international NGOs had doubts.”

Broers and Lecluyse wrote an article based on their research in MO* magazine. FSC’s response is extremely revealing. FSC has posted six “stakeholder updates” about Veracel on itswebsite:

  • 25 September 2010: FSC acknowledges that, “FSC now has information about the current stakeholder concerns regarding Veracel’s plantations.” Perhaps FSC lost the 2007 letter signed by nearly 350 organisations. Maybe search engines are banned in the FSC headquarters in the interests of keeping staff focussed on the work in hand.
  • 5 November 2010: FSC states that, “ASI [Accreditation Services International] will conduct a comprehensive witness assessment of SGS Qualifor at Veracel in Brazil in early December.” Note that SGS Qualifor is to be assessed and not Veracel. ASI visited Veracel in March 2008. SGS Qualifor issued the certification days before ASI arrived. “In a devastating report, the ASI inspection team crushes the work of SGS Qualifor,” write Broers and Lecluyse. “The report reveals that ASI would not have granted the label.” But only SGS Qualifor can withdraw the certificate, not ASI.
  • 15 December 2010: According to FSC, “Preliminary findings from the ASI assessment of SGS Brazil on 6 – 10 December are currently being analyzed.” The results of the ASI assessment, “do not have immediate implications for the Certificate Holder”.
  • 26 January 2011: ASI’s report, “reveals 8 Major Corrective Action Requests (CARs), 5 Minor CARs and 2 Observations of non-conformities of SGS Qualifor in their audit of Veracel, relating to issues such as the use of chemicals, health and safety of workers, national, local and international laws, stakeholder consultation, identification of High Conservation Value forests, and other requirements as outlined in the Report. The lead assessor for ASI has therefore recommended suspension of SGS Qualifor program for FSC Forest Management Brazil.” SGS Qualifor has until 10 March 2011 to close the Major CARs. Veracel, however, needs to do nothing. “The ASI findings do not determine whether the Certificate Holder is in compliance,” FSC tells us in its “stakeholder update”.
  • 25 March 2011: SGS “is not allowed to perform new FSC certification evaluations or issue/re-issue new FSC certificates in Brazil until the suspension has been lifted.” ASI will go back to Veracel in April 2011 “to complete the dispute resolution process”. Veracel’s certificate remains valid.
  • 3 November 2011: ASI’s visit in April 2011, raised three new “major non conformities against SGS Qualifor”.

In other words, ASI found that SGS Qualifor did not conduct the certification process of Veracel in accordance with FSC’s rules. FSC suspended SGS Qualifor, but only in Brazil. The fact that SGS Qualifor did not carry out a proper assessment of Veracel does not affect Veracel’s certificate in any way whatsoever.

Veracel has now hired Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood to help it continue its deception. In April 2012, Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood announced that Imaflora (which represents Rainforest Alliance in Brazil) would be carrying out a pre-assessment of Veracel in May-June 2012. FSC maintains a searchable database of its certificates here: info.fsc.org. Here’s the result of a search for Veracel (click on the image for a larger version):

Veracel remains certified, despite three visits from ASI. The Certifying Body has changed from SGS Qualifor to Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood. This is now a “closed dispute”, according to FSC.

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4 comments

  1. Veracel was indeed FSC’s ‘Death Certificate’, but as we all know, it hasn’t stopped this putrid body from issuing many more certificates that should have consigned it to a quick and final demise…

    As far as I can see, the problem is that the FSC is in fact a zombie organisation that has been dead, at least from the neck upwards, for a long time. With the blood-sucking variety of non-living, the remedy is a relatively straightforward stake through the heart. But if anyone has any ideas as to how to get rid of a fully un-dead forest certification organisation, perhaps they can tell us??

  2. One point missing from this is that the forestry industry in Latin America is seeking to genetically engineer eucalyptus trees – as indeed is happening all over the world with GM poplar trees being harvested on a commercial scale in China. GM seems attractive to and is being driven by the forestry industry because it will make the trees grow even faster thus ‘hiding’ the fact that FSC certification doesn’t ensure that supply meets demand. Once any GM tree pollen is ‘out there’ it can never be got back – and the pollen will spread easily due to the height of the trees. Cross-pollination with wild species could, for example, reduce their nut or fruit crops; weaken their wood structure and leave them open to disease. FSC Certification, if it means anything – should ensure that GM plantations can not be established but I’ve not seen anything from FSC on this – and believe its an issue that needs urgent attention.

  3. Thanks Ecowitch – There’s an article in yesterday’s Guardian (http://bit.ly/Wc97O6) that includes an interview with Stanley Hirsch, chief executive of FuturaGene, a company that is carrying out GM tree trials. Here’s what he says about FSC:

    Hirsch hopes to avoid the GM furore that has accompanied GM foods, with the backing of groups such as WWF and Conservation International, as well as certification bodies such as the Forestry stewardship council (FSC) which has so far refused to certify any GM trees.

    “FSC is at the moment is a market barrier. It’s very sensitive. There is a growing understanding in the forestry industry that technology is a vital part of plantation forestry sustainability. But we are seeing a change in the certification bodies. FSC now allows forestry companies to look at research into GM trees. We are encouraging dialogue with FSC,” Hirsch said.

  4. It will only be a matter of time until FSC accepts GM trees. They always eventually do what the industry wants them to do, and if the certifiers think there is a market in certifying GM plantations, then they will want it too.

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