The headline comes from a recent post on CIFOR’s Forest Blog. CIFOR is the Centre for International Forestry Research. The blog post is based on research by one of CIFOR’s scientists, Paolo Omar Cerutti, who was lead author of a recent paper published in Forest Policy and Economics: Legal vs. certified timber: Preliminary impacts of forest certification in Cameroon.
In May 2008, the US government enacted a revision to the Lacey Act, a hundred year-old piece of legislation that renders it illegal to trade in goods in the US which are from illegal sources, which now makes the Act applicable to the timber trade. Whilst timber traders are no doubt hoping that use of FSC certified wood is going to keep them out of prison, they may be in for a nasty shock.
Up until a few years ago, FSC’s accredited certifiers were prohibited from certifying for other forest certification schemes, because of the obvious conflict of interest that this would represent. But, as has been the way of things in the FSC, such a ban represented an obstacle to the increase of the certifiers’ profits, and was therefore duly done away with. (One of the more bizarre justifications offered for this profound weakening of the FSC’s rules, from the now Chair of FSC’s Board, Grant Rosoman, was that, if the certifiers were prohibited from ‘moonlighting’ for other schemes, then they would simply set up nominally separate organisations to get around this rule. So much for the notion that FSC’s certifiers are required to work to the highest ethical standards…)
One the major structural problems that seems to underlie much of what is going wrong in the FSC is that contracts for certification assessments are arranged directly between logging companies and the FSC’s accredited certifiers. Because of this – and especially because the award of a certificate will ensure future profits for the certifiers from monitoring and re-assessments – certifiers have a strong financial incentive to award certificates even when the logging company does not comply with the FSC’s Principles and Criteria.
One of the more controversial of FSC’s policies has been the ‘Mixed Sources’ policy, which allows manufactured products such as plywood, paper and furniture to be labelled as ‘FSC’ even though the amount of wood fibre from FSC-certified sources is actually as little as 10% of the total wood material in the product.
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”.
On 30th October, more than 75 environmental organisations from 25 countries wrote a letter to the Executive Director of FSC, Heiko Liedeker, and the FSC’s International Board, calling for urgent improvements to the FSC system. The groups include WWF International, Greenpeace International, Birdlife Internationl, Friends of the Earth UK, the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense.