The 10 worst things about the Forest Stewardship Council

Here’s a handy guide to 10 of the worst things about FSC. We look forward to reading your suggested additions in the comments.

In 2006, when we started FSC-Watch, we wrote that, “whilst the structural problems within the FSC system have been known for many years, the formal mechanisms of governance and control, including the elected Board, the General Assembly, and the Complaints Procedures have been highly ineffective in addressing these problems.”

Unfortunately, that still remains true today.

1. The certifying bodies (assessors) are paid by the companies wanting to get certified. It is in the assessors’ interest not to get a reputation for being too “difficult”, otherwise they will not be hired in future. This is a clear conflict of interest.

2. FSC certifies industrial tree plantations. Vast areas of monocultures have been certified as “well managed”, despite the impacts on the environment and local communities.

3. If a company doesn’t comply with the Principles and Criteria, assessors can issue corrective action requests. So at the time a consumer is buying the certified product, the certified company may still be in the process of complying.

4. The mixed sources label is a joke. No one (possibly excluding a handful of employees at FSC) knows what this actually means. And controlled (sic) wood is a sham.

5. FSC is certifying carbon offset projects. Carbon trading will not address climate change, because it allows pollution elsewhere to continue. Some of FSC’s most egregious certifications involved carbon projects in Uganda.

6. The certifying bodies have a stranglehold over the FSC International Secretariat.

7. FSC certifies the logging of primary forests.

8. The complaints mechanism doesn’t work.

9. FSC does not address the underlying causes of deforestation. If a destructive logging company does not want to get certified (Rimbunan Hijau, for example), there is absolutely nothing that FSC can do. Rather than attempting to address over-consumption, FSC encourages consumption, provided the product carries an FSC label.

10. Despite increasing criticism (including in recent years from Greenpeace), several key NGO members leaving (FERN, FoE EWNI, Robin Wood, SSNC etc.), FSC has stubbornly refused to address the structural problems that the organisation faces.



  1. The FSC structures and certification bodies should be composed of properly represented independent environmental organisations and local community leaders from areas that the timber is sourced from, Until then the certification is irrelevant and in fact making false claims.

  2. In Ireland the situation is that coillte (state forest company) are certified to a standard for SFM written and endorsed by people co opted on to the steering committee. This standard has principle 3 left out which means that coillte can keep their certification despite the fact that coillte are selling off their plantations for unsustainable activities like fracking and wind farms. Because principle 3 is left out coillte maintain that consultation with local communities is not necessary before they sell off land for what local communities consider unsustainable developments.

  3. Considering the failure of FSC to protect forests, do you have any tips for those who need to buy timber but want to have the least negative effect? Some guidance given the circumstances would be welcome…if possible.

  4. FSC is a con job. Forests are more valuable left intact – provide potable water, soil stabilisation, genetic resources, wildlife preservation, etc. Industrial logging destroys these

  5. In 2004 my paper criticising the criteria applied to the used of forestry chemicals (herbicides) was published in Australian Forestry. At that time, the FSC had 3 major criteria and it was quite easy to demonstrate that the approach was pseudo-scientific. The FSC has added another 7 criteria since then but the approach remains pseudo-scientific. Furthermore, the FSC does not recognise national regulatory organisations and processes but seeks to apply their criteria over such sovereign acts of governing bodies. The FSC also never acknowledges external criticisms pertaining to the use of chemicals, despite the fact that their use still comes under labelling, which is controlled by national and state regulation. In short, there is no acceptable peer review; if there was, the FSC processes pertaining to chemical use would be shown to be pseudo-scientific and would collapse. Bad science is just that, but when combined with and governed by ideological considerations, is positively dangerous.

    Dr Barry Tomkins

  6. I thought we had debunked the hemp-will-save-everything argument years ago! I was the one who, fortunately, shortstopped RAN’s push to get everyone on hemp and kenaf paper (back in ’95 – ’96. There are even more arguments against industrial hemp production for paper as there are for fast wood plantations. Growing *anything* just to make paper is as ridiculous as it is to certify logging in never-before-logged forests. The bigger picture is being missed.

    The problem is over-demand. The real solution to that is using less wood fiber across the board. I will lay all this out in the upcoming book Slow Wood™, including a critique of certain ‘alternatives’. On-purpose crops for anything but food make no sense, given how much land Earth has already lost to agriculture. Given how much agricultural residues is already in production, there’s no need to grow *anything* just to make paper.

    As well, given how much paper is still not recovered for recycling, and how much was being shipped out of the US (and the impact of China’s National Sword is the ass-biting that we deserved for lack of recycling and not keeping recycled materials in the US and using them in US factories), all the material we need is readily available, without growing on-purpose crops.

    As we’ve seen over the last 100 years, already fast wood plantations have shortened rotations on every rotation, and increasing forest areas are being converted to plantations. Hemp and kenaf would simply be the last straw (pun intended) in the quest for faster rotations to produce ever-increasing amounts of fiber. With no end in sight for demand, there would be no end in site promoting increasing levels of fiber production. ‘Private’ forests, already being converted to pine plantations, will fall even faster.

    First and foremost, we *must* reduce demand, especially in overindustrialized, over-consuming countries.

    Tim Keating

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