ARTE, the European TV channel, broadcast a new documentary about FSC this week. It’s available on the ARTE website in German: “Die Ausbeutung der Urwälder: Kann ein Öko-Siegel die Forstindustrie stoppen?” – The exploitation of primary forests: Can an ecolabel stop the forest industry?
It’s also available in French: “Forêts labellisées, arbres protégés ?”.
It is an excellent documentary. The journalists Manfred Ladwig and Thomas Reutter travel to several countries to investigate what FSC certification looks like on the ground, and whether it protects the forests and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities that live in and near the forest.
A series of future posts on FSC-Watch will look at each of the countries in turn. The findings are devastating for FSC.
The journalists visit indigenous pygmy villages in the Republic of Congo, where the villagers are going hungry because they are no longer allowed to hunt in IFO’s FSC-certified logging concession.
They track illegal timber from Cambodia transported to Vietnam. From there, via FSC-certified timber yards it is exported to Europe and the rest of the world. There is no way of telling whether timber carrying an FSC label from Vietnam was illegally logged in Cambodia.
In Peru, Ladwig and Reutter investigate the operations of Bozovich Timber Products. The company is FSC-certified and supported by the German government. They discover that the scale of illegal logging in Peru is vast. Falsified documents make it impossible to tell whether timber exported from Peru is legal or illegal. Including timber with the FSC label.
Ladwig and Reutter interview Simon Counsell, head of Rainforest Foundation UK (and co-founder of FSC-Watch). He explains that only the FSC 100% label means that a product has been certified under the FSC system, and the forestry operations have been checked on the ground.
When it comes to the FSC Mix label, only some of the wood in the product was certified. The rest is the euphemistically named Controlled Wood. “That’s wood that hasn’t actually been controlled,” Counsell says. Instead of checking in the forest, the label is handed out based on a desk study, in Bonn or in London.
A product carrying the FSC Mix label could in fact contain no FSC-certified timber whatsoever. It’s confusing for consumers, Counsell says.
Ladwig and Reutter travel to Brazil and look at the impact of Veracel’s industrial tree plantations on local communities and indigenous peoples. They found that the company plantations had serious impacts on the livelihoods of the people living in the area.
In Sweden, they see the impact of FSC-certified “sustainable” forestry. Clearcuts and even-aged plantations are replacing primary forests over large areas of the country. Industrial forestry for furniture and the pulp and paper industry is having a serious impact on biodiversity.
The last country that Ladwig and Reutter visit is Russia, where they see primary forest being destroyed with the help of the FSC label. A study led by Professor Pierre Ibisch, Professor for Nature Conservation at the Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management in Eberswalde, compares FSC-certified logging with non-certified logging. The research found that the FSC label makes no difference. The consequences of clearcutting are the same.
Ladwig and Reutter wanted to film a certification assessment as it takes place in the forest (or plantation). They asked to observe ten different assessments. In each case they were turned down.
They also tried to get interviews with the logging and plantations companies they were investigating, but in almost all cases the companies refused to talk.
The documentary does include responses from Kim Carstensen, the director general of FSC. In each case, he shrugs off the problems, as if they are of little or no interest to him, or to FSC.
The journalists ask Carstensen whether he thinks it would it be possible for FSC to say no timber from undisturbed forests?
Carstensen replies that,
“If you’re proposing a boycott against timber from the Amazon, or the Congo Basin, then your saying to the countries there that their forests have no value, that they can get to advantage from their forests. That’s completely the wrong way to go.”
The journalists interview remote sensing scientist Matthew Hansen at the University of Maryland.
Hansen shows satellite pictures on his computer of IFO’s logging concession in the Republic of Congo:
The logging roads can clearly be seen, as can patches of forests that have been logged. “You can clearly see the influence of the logging,” Hansen says.
“This is not selective logging. This is incomprehensible. They are bringing the human footprint into the rainforest. At the beginning you see elephants, chimpanzees. Then they open the primary rainforest and suddenly you can drive 100 km/h through the rainforest where before it would have taken you a few weeks to walk.”
Hansen talks about a cascade of impacts on the forest, and says, “Now you have something that’s pretty irreversible.”
The documentary concludes that over the past 25 years of its existence the FSC label has failed even to slow down the forest industry. “We can only save the rainforest with legislation, not with labels.”