In November 2015, WWF Germany filed a formal complaint with FSC against the Austrian-based company Holzindustrie Schweighofer – the largest forest products company in Romania. The complaint followed a series of undercover investigations by the Environmental Investigation Agency and an article in Germany’s Spiegel magazine.
FSC eventually took the decision to disassociate from the Schweighofer Group in February 2017. The decision was taken based on “clear and convincing evidence” of Schweighofer’s extensive sourcing of illegal timber as well as involvement of the company’s employees in organised criminal groups in Romania.
Just before Christmas, FSC put out a press release about the “roadmap” that Schweighofer has to follow in order for FSC to end the disassociation. Yet the roadmap fails to resolve the underlying problem of illegal timber sourcing, by allowing Schweighofer to track paperwork rather than tracking the timber back to where it came from in the forest.
Here is EIA’s press release about FSC’s decision to water down Schweighofer’s roadmap:
FSC’s Christmas present for Schweighofer: Tracing wood is not required
EIA press release, 21 December 2017
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is disappointed that the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has agreed to a roadmap that would allow Holzindustrie Schweighofer to regain FSC status, without resolving the underlying problem of illegal timber sourcing which led the FSC to cut ties with the Austrian timber giant in February. The Board of Directors of the FSC, made this decision in early December, but waited to publish it until just before the holiday.
In a misleading press release, the FSC claims that its conditions require that Schweighofer implement a “robust system for the traceability of round wood back to the forest stand.” Instead, the final Framework now requires only traceability of “legal ownership” of logs – meaning that instead of the wood itself, Schweighofer only needs to track paperwork.
“Filing ownership papers is not the same thing as tracing wood back to the forest”, said EIA’s Eurasia Programs Coordinator, David Gehl. “Paperwork can be easily falsified. The FSC’s statement misleads the public by naming a condition that is not included in the approved framework.”
The FSC had disassociated from Schweighofer in February 2017 due to “clear and convincing evidence” of extensive sourcing of illegal timber as well as involvement of the company’s employees in organized criminal groups in Romania. The company remains under investigation by Romania’s anti-organized crime authorities.
While Schweighofer has invested heavily in public relations and in a GPS tracking system for trucks delivering wood to its facilities, the main problem remains unsolved: between 30-50% of Schweighofer’s Romanian logs come from third-party “depots,” local companies that combine timber acquired from multiple harvesting sites and other log yards. EIA and others have documented repeatedly how these depots lack systems for tracking the origins of logs and routinely serve as hubs for laundering wood from questionable sources. In addition, a recent field investigation, conducted by EIA in the last two months, found illegal cutting in a national park linked to Schweighofer.
An FSC expert panel investigating the matter recognized the problem of “depot” sourcing and recommended in its 2016 report that, for Schweighofer to be re-associated in the future, all the company’s timber would need to “be traced from the stand in the forest to mill gate including any timber that is purchased from third parties.”
“If it wants to continue operating in high-risk timber sectors, Schweighofer needs to establish real physical traceability for its entire supply chain,” said Gehl. “If the FSC reinstates Schweighofer before this condition is fulfilled, the FSC will once again put its stamp on the destruction of Europe’s last old-growth forests.”