FSC rejects complaint against Roseburg Forest Products. Carstensen says rights issues raised are “outside forestry operations”

On 27 February 2019, the organisation Water for Citizens of Weed, California (WCWC) filed a complaint with the Forest Stewardship Council against timber company Roseburg Forest Products.

WCWC argued that FSC should dissociate from Roseburg because the company was attempting to profit from the town’s water supply, by selling it to a bottled water company called Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring.

Roseburg’s attempt to profit from Weed’s water

In October 2016, the New York Times covered the story about Weed and its water supply:

The water that gurgles from a spring on the edge of this Northern California logging town is so pristine that for more than a century it has been piped directly to the wooden homes spread across hills and gullies.

“The city needs to actively look for another source of water,” Ellen Porter, Roseburg’s director of environmental affairs, told the New York Times.

Seven months after the story in the New York Times, nine people from Weed wrote to the district water office to clarify the ownership of the municipal water.

The company reacted by suing them. In December 2017, the case was dismissed, but the company continues in its attempts to privatise the town’s water.

WCWC argued in its complaint to FSC that Roseburg has violated the human rights of the residents of Weed, in taking the water supply and in trying to silence the community through its lawsuit.

In his response to the complaint, Kim Carstensen, FSC’s Director General, wrote that,

Since the rights issues you raise are outside forestry operations, we do not have a framework or mandate to take action. We are therefore unable to accept your complaint.

According to Carstensen, then, FSC certified companies could do just about anything without FSC lifting a finger, as long as the company is careful to keep its wrongdoing outside forestry operations.

More trouble for Roseburg

By coincidence, on the same day that Carstensen rejected the complaint, the Environmental Investigation Agency put out a report titled, “Toxic Trade: Forest Crime in Gabon and the Republic of Congo and Contamination of the US Market”.

EIA’s report is the result of a four-year investigation that revealed illegally-sourced timber from Gabon and the Republic of Congo on sale in the US:

An in-depth analysis of the okoume (Aucoumea klaineana) veneer imported directly into the US from the two African countries indicates the complicity of the US importer Evergreen Hardwoods Inc. and the negligent sourcing of the manufacturer Roseburg. Roseburg’s okoume-made “eco-friendly” product can be found in dozens of family-owned retailers across the US and in major hardware stores including Menards and, until 2017, in Home Depot.

Both Evergreen and Roseburg are currently certified under the FSC system.

Roseburg used okoume veneer in its Breckenridge timber cladding. On its website, Roseburg now has a note stating that, “Roseburg has suspended the manufacture and sale of Breckenridge siding, pending a federal investigation into allegations of illegal import practices by our suppliers of okoume veneer.”

FSC’s Association Policy states that “FSC will only allow its association with organizations that are not directly or indirectly involved in . . . Illegal logging or the trade in illegal wood or forest products.”

FSC trademark misuse

Roseburg’s website advertising its Breckenridge cladding previously included a table that included the FSC logo (click on “Sustainability” in this archived version). The small print next to the logo states, “Not available FSC”. That looks a lot like misuse of the FSC trademark to me:

Here’s WCWC’s press release about FSC’s decision not to investigate Roseburg’s human rights violations:

Timber Industry Sidesteps Request to Investigate U.S. Company’s Human Rights Violations

By Water for Citizens of Weed, CA 26 March 2019

WEED, CALIFORNIA – The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the industry body that certifies “responsible timber,” has declined to investigate a complaint filed by Water for Citizens of Weed, California (WCWC) against Oregon-based Roseburg Forest Products. The complaint arose due to Roseburg’s use of abusive tactics in its bid to force the community of Weed off its most important source of drinking water.

Jim Taylor, President of Water for Citizens of Weed, CA (WCWC), said, “Roseburg has long used its FSC certification to demonstrate that it is a responsible company. But today, we see past the facade of this greenwashing label. ‘FSC-certified’ clearly does not mean ethical or responsible. As we have said before, sustainability needs to be based on partnership with local communities, not on bullying.”

WCWC filed its complaint with the FSC on February 27th. The complaint alleged that Roseburg, which operates a lumber mill in Weed, has violated the human rights of local residents by trying to take control of the city’s primary source of drinking water, a spring on nearby Mt. Shasta, so that it can force the City off the water and then sell it to the international water bottling industry. The company has sought to intimidate the community into silence, suing nine community leaders who objected to the company’s actions. The right to raise such concerns is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as being integral to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.

In its March 25th response to the complaint, the FSC claimed that the human rights violations alleged by WCWC are “outside forestry operations.” WCWC had argued that the complaint was directly linked to Roseburg’s forestry operations, due to the fact that Roseburg also uses water from the same spring for its mill operations as well as that the whole dispute arises out of the community’s former status as a lumber mill-owned company town.

Six well-known national and regional human rights and environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Civil Liberties Defense Center and EarthRights International, as well as a number of individuals, had written letters supporting WCWC’s complaint to the FSC.

The FSC is an international body that is charged with certifying the sustainability of timber companies’ operations around the globe. Roseburg Forest Products has touted its FSC certification as proof of its “green” credentials. However, an important part of FSC certification is supposed to include human rights and how companies treat the communities in which they operate.

The FSC’s refusal to investigate one of its favored US clients comes at a time when Roseburg is under federal investigation over its alleged involvement in the trade of illegal black-market timber from areas of high conservation importance in Africa.

Bruce Shoemaker of WCWC said, “Rather than investigating our complaint on its merits, the FSC is using a very narrow definition of “forestry operations” to avoid responsibility for its association with a company that continues to violate the rights of our community. We hope that customers of Roseburg’s products are not just assuming that the FSC label is proof that this company cares about human rights.”

Chris Lang of FSC Watch said, “As FSC-Watch has documented since 2006, FSC has an appalling record of protecting companies at the expense of local communities. FSC claims to be promoting ‘responsible management of the world’s forests’, but whenever problems with FSC-certified companies are exposed, FSC goes into cover-up mode, acting on behalf of the timber industry. FSC’s failure to investigate the complaint against Roseburg is just one more example of FSC’s bias in favour of corporations – at the expense of the human rights of the local community.”

Weed residents demand that Roseburg take the following actions: drop its SLAPP lawsuit against Weed citizens, and honor the intention of its predecessor company – International Paper – to officially recognize the town’s rights to the spring water.

Additional Information:
WCWC’s complaint to the FSC as well as FSC’s response and other info is available here: https://waterforweedca.org/our-news


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