On 22 September 2011, Oxfam released a report about a UK-based company called New Forests. Oxfam’s researchers visited the company’s plantations in Uganda and found that more than 22,000 people were kicked off the land to make way for the company’s monocultures. Oxfam made public what FSC’s certifying body, SGS, had somehow managed to ignore for the past two years. Accreditation Services International (ASI) in turn found out nothing about the evictions when it carried out an audit of SGS in 2010. New Forests Company has put out a statement explaining that it “takes Oxfam’s allegations extremely seriously and will conduct an immediate and thorough investigation”.
In one of the political blogs still commenting on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s second raid on Gibson Guitars for possible contraventions of the Lacey Act, Republican pundit Andrew M. Langer, berating Gibson for “consorting with environmentalists”, refers to an old saying that “if you lie down with dogs be prepared to get up with fleas”. He adds that “Apparently if you lie down with environmentalists you should be prepared to get raided by the Feds.”
The raiding of Gibson Guitars in Tennessee in August by US Federal Fish and Wildlife officials for suspected violations of the Lacey Act – which forbids US companies from importing wood obtained from illegal sources – has once again cast a very hard light on the FSC system, and in particular on the Rainforest Alliance, whose SmartWood scheme is the FSC’s most prolific issuer of FSC certificates. An October 2nd article (which we reproduce in full below), published in the ‘Tennessean’ newspaper, has opened new revelations about the relationship between Gibson and the Alliance, which sound loud alarm bells about the ‘independence’ of the certifier.
FSC-Watch has received the following posting from a correspondent with “fifteen years’ experience as an auditor of FSC systems”. Like many people who have worked within the FSC system, and know first-hand the kinds of problems pointed out repeatedly on FSC-Watch, the contributor wishes to make their views known anonymously.
Orwellian: (Pertaining to the author, George Orwell) “Connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past, including the “unperson” – a person whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory, practiced by modern repressive governments.”
Last week saw the distressing announcement by UNESCO that the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve had been put back on the organisation’s ‘In Danger’ list, at the request of the Honduran government because, it said, of “the combined threats of illegal logging, fishing and land occupation, poaching and the reduced capacity of the State to manage the site”. Covering 500,000 hectares, and being one of Central America’s most important protected areas, Rio Platano has also gained fame as being a source of mahogany used in the manufacture of Gibson guitars.
In a recent posting, we reported on the sale of FSC’s flagship certified logging company in Africa, Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB), to the Singapore-based Olam Group, which describes itself as a “global leader in agricultural products and food ingredients”. Amongst Olam’s activities elsewhere in the world is production and processing of palm oil, so it came as little surprise to some when the company recently indicated, only five months after acquiring CIB’s massive forest assets in northern Congo, that it was interesting in ‘diversifying’ CIB’s production to include various crops such as palm oil, cacao and soya.
The FSC Secretariat has issued a response to the resignation of important NGO member, FERN, which FSC-Watch reported recently. Whilst the statement naturally tries to play down the significance of FERN’s departure (and pretends that FERN had no concerns about the organisation other than on carbon certification, which it knows to be untrue), it reveals just how firmly in self-denial the FSC remains.
A revealing article posted by leading website on rainforest issues, mongabay.com raises concerns about proposed changes to FSC’s rules, which threaten to open up the flood gates of FSC certification of plantations which have recently been established on former areas of natural forests. At present, FSC prohibits certification of plantations that are on land cleared of forest after 1994.
Certification in any of the countries in the Congo Basin was always going to stretch the credibility of the FSC system to the limit – as the miserable experiences in Cameroon of companies such as SEFAC and Wijma have shown (the former of which remains ‘suspended’ for forest management but, illogically, still certified for Chain of Custody). Sadly, because the FSC is unable to control its certifiers, these lessons seem not to have been learned; allowing its certifiers to issue certificates in DR Congo was always bound to end in disaster.