This site has been developed by a group of people, FSC supporters and members among them, who are very concerned about the constant and serious erosion of the FSC’s reliability and thus credibility. The group includes Simon Counsell, one of the Founder Members of the FSC; Hermann Edelmann, working for a long term FSC member organisation; and Chris Lang, who has looked critically at several FSC certifications in Thailand, Laos, Brazil, USA, New Zealand, South Africa and Uganda – finding serious problems in each case.

As with many other activists working on forests worldwide, we share the frustration 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. The possibility of reforming – and thus ‘saving’ – the FSC through these mechanisms is, we feel, declining, as power within the FSC is increasingly captured by vested commercial interest.

We feel that unless drastic action is taken, the FSC is doomed to failure. Part of the problem, in our analysis, is that too few FSC members are aware of the many profound problems within the organisation. The FSC Secretariat continues to pour out ‘good news stories’ about its ‘successes’, without acknowledging, for example, the numerous complaints against certificates and certifiers, the cancellation of certificates that should never have been awarded in the first place, the calls for FSC to cease certifying where there is no local agreement to do so, the walk-outs of FSC members from national processes because of their disillusionment with the role of the economic chamber, etc. etc. etc.

There has been no honest evaluation of what is working and what is not what working in the FSC, and no open forum for discussing these issues. This website is an attempt to redress this imbalance. The site will also help people who are normally excluded from the FSC’s processes to express their views and concerns about the FSC’s activities.

Please share your thoughts or information. Feel free to comment on our postings or send us any information that you consider valuable for the site.

UPDATE (25 March 2010): A couple of people have requested that we explain why we are focussing on FSC rather than PEFC. Shortly after starting FSC-Watch we posted an article titled: FSC vs PEFC: Holy cows vs the Emperor’s new clothes. As this is somewhat buried in the archives, it’s reproduced in full here (if you want to discuss this, please click on the link to go to the original post):

FSC vs PEFC: Holy cows vs the Emperor’s new clothes

One of the reasons I am involved in this website is that I believe that many people are aware of serious problems with FSC, but don’t discuss them publicly because the alternative to FSC is even worse. The alternative, in this case is PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) and all the other certification schemes (Cerflor, Certflor, the Australian Forestry Standard, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council and so on). One person has suggested that we should set up PEFC-Watch, in order “to be even-handed”.

The trouble with this argument is that PEFC et al have no credibility. No NGOs, people’s organisations or indigenous peoples’ organisations were involved in setting them up. Why bother spending our time monitoring something that amounts to little more than a rubber stamp? I can just see the headlines: “Rubber stamp PEFC scheme rubber stamps another controversial logging operation!” Shock, horror. The Emperor is stark bollock naked, and it’s not just some little boy pointing this out – it’s plain for all to see, isn’t it?

One way of countering all these other schemes would be to point out that FSC is better. But, if there are serious problems with FSC – which there are, and if we can see them, so can anyone else who cares to look – then the argument starts to look very shaky.

FSC standards aren’t bad (apart from Principle 10, which really isn’t much use to anyone except the pulp and paper industry). They say lots of things we’d probably want forest management standards to say. The trouble is that the standards are not being applied in practice. Sure, campaign against PEFC, but if FSC becomes a Holy Cow which is immune to criticism (not least because all the criticism takes place behind closed doors), then we can hardly present it as an alternative, can we?…”

By the way, anyone who thinks that PEFC and FSC are in opposition should read this interview with Heiko Liedeker (FSC’s Executive Director) and Ben Gunneberg (PEFC’s General Secretary). In particular this bit (I thought at first it must be a mix up between FSC and PEFC, or Liedeker and Gunneberg):

Question: As a follow-up question, Heiko Liedeker, from your perspective, is there room ultimately for programs like the Australian Forestry Standard, Certfor and others to operate under the FSC umbrella?

Heiko Liedeker: Absolutely. FSC was a scheme that was set-up to provide mutual recognition between national standard-setting initiatives. Every national initiative sets its standard. Some of them are called FSC working groups, some of them are called something else. In the UK they are called UKWAS. We’ve been in dialogue with Edwardo Morales at Certfor Chile. They are some of the FSC requirements listed for endorsement, we certainly entered into discussion. We’ve been in discussion with the Australian Forestry Standard and other standard-setting initiatives. What FSC does not do is, it has one global scheme for recognizing certification. So we do not, and that’s one of the many differences between FSC and PEFC, we do not require the development of a certification program as such. A standard-setting program is sufficient to participate in the network.