New documentary slams FSC: “The eco-label could not slow down the forest industry”

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 ?”.

The documentary was available online with English subtitles until 23 October 2018. The documentary is available here (also in German and Spanish):

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.

2018-10-18-124235_1920x1080_scrot.png

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.

2018-10-18-145910_1920x1080_scrot.pngThe 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:

2018-10-18-161631_1920x1080_scrot.png

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.”

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5 comments

  1. By no means this is an excellent documentary! It is very biased. The objective of the journalists was to discredit the FSC by all means, they work with accusations and speculations. Meanwhile evidence exists that proves the positive effects of FSC certification. Reutter got interviews from people making them believe that he was going to do a nice film for the celebration of the 25th birthday of FSC and misused the trust of people. He did not get to see any audits or to interview all of the companies because it got known that he just wanted to slack the FSC. If this documentary has the effect that consumers now think that the FSC-label is a lie and rather buy unlabelled products where the source of the material is unknown, he has done a huge disservice to the forests of the world and all who work hard to achieve sustainable forest management.

  2. Thanks for this comment Juliane. Another way of looking at this is that the ARTE Documentary exposes a series of flaws in the FSC system. These flaws are well documented (including in reports by EIA, Global Witness, Rainforest Foundation UK, Greenpeace, World Rainforest Movement) and have been issues for many years. Unless FSC addresses these flaws it has little or no remaining credibility.

    As Ladwig and Reutter found when they visited Cambodia and Vietnam, illegal timber from Cambodia is flooding into Vietnam. The FSC chain of custody label provides no guarantee that the timber has been legally logged.

    The unfortunate reality is that the FSC-label is a lie. Look at the list of NGOs that one after another have pulled out of FSC over the years – most recently Greenpeace – for evidence that FSC is failing to address its problems.

    Incidentally, could you provide links to the “evidence” that “exists that proves the positive effects of FSC certification” please? Thanks.

  3. The FSC-label is not a lie. All systems have flaws and surely they must be addressed. But to slack the whole FSC system and make it responsible for deforestation is absurd. What would have happened to the many FSC certified forests had they not been managed according to the FSC principles and criteria? I have witnessed numerous forest management audits over the years and the enormous work that it takes to comply with the FSC standard. I would have wished that Ladwig and Reutter portray the achievements as well. What solutions do they offer?

  4. @Juliane Lemcke – I’m glad you agree that the FSC system has flaws. Ladwig and Reutter show some of these flaws clearly in their documentary. The film ends with some suggestions from some of the people interviewed in the documentary.

    A start for FSC might be to listen to its critics and actually address the flaws that are highlighted. But instead of taking the criticism in Ladwig and Reutter’s documentary seriously, FSC tried to shrug it off, with a Gish gallopGish gallop through a list of long reports that supposedly, but didn’t, support its argument.

    Here’s FSC-Watch’s response to FSC’s statement about the documentary: In denial: FSC’s response to the ARTE documentary.

    In your first comment (above), you talked about evidence that “exists that proves the positive effects of FSC certification”. When I asked you to show me this evidence, you replied as follows:

    “I have witnessed numerous forest management audits over the years and the enormous work that it takes to comply with the FSC standard.”

    I’m sure you are aware that this is not evidence. So I’ll repeat the question: could you provide links to the “evidence” that “exists that proves the positive effects of FSC certification” please? Thanks.

  5. Given Julian Lemcke has “witnessed many forest management audits” over the years the implication is that she works either for one of the FSC certification bodies or for the FSC or its affiliates. I too witnessed many FSC audits over a 10 period ending in 2010. The FSC system can only command respect as long as there is indisputable integrity in the auditing process. As the many controversies over the years imply, confidence in the integrity of the auditing systems and processes is far from universal. This will not change until the relationship between certification bodies and their clients (certificate holders), which is wholly commercial, is fully opened up and transparent.

    As Chris Lang says, the FSC does itself no favours by refusing to respond in an open way to its many critics. This is a public relations disaster and an indication the FSC is an arrogant and out of touch organisation.

    How can this change? A start could be to invite truly independent individuals or bodies to observe FSC certification audits and provide a forum whereby their findings can be documented and published.

    As it stands, I have very little confidence in the FSC label, particularly for tropical wood products and it is time the FSC returned to its original remit of focusing exclusively on tropical forests and products and forget this dangerous and damaging move into mixed labels and controlled wood. As a tropical foresters of almost 30 years’ standing they can’t pull the wool over my highly experienced eyes.

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