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.
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.
Another of the many deeply troubling but now, at least temporarily, vanished FSC certficates exposed by FSC-Watch is that of the rainforest logging ‘SEFAC group’ in Cameroon. The SEFAC certificate disapeared off FSC’s certified forest database sometime during 2009. Neither FSC nor SEFAC itself, nor the logger’s certifier, ICILA, provided an explanation for this.
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.
A final blow has been dealt to the credibility of the now ‘self-suspended’ FSC certifier SGS, by a Brazilian Federal court decision that nearly one hundred thousand hectares of eucalyptus plantation owned by SGS-certified company Veracel were planted illegally and will have to be torn down within 12 months. The company has also been ordered to pay $12 million in fines for causing environmental damage.
Today, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telepak release a report about illegal logging in the Mekong Region. The report, titled “Borderlines: Vietnam’s Booming Furniture Industry and Timber Smuggling in the Mekong Region” documents how timber is illegally transported from Laos to Vietnam, where it is made into furniture. Furniture exports from Vietnam are expanding dramatically, relying on huge quantities of illegally-logged timber from Laos and Cambodia.
The most recent report of the official Independent Forest Monitor in Nicaragua, the London-based NGO Global Witness, has once again called into question the ability of FSC’s accredited certifiers to detect illegalities in certified forestry operations. The December 2007 report notes that “The Monitor was not able to detect a significantly different level of legal compliance between certified and uncertified forest”.
At the start of this year, FSC-Watch reported on the ‘suspension’ of the FSC certificate of Malaysian-owned Guyanese logging company, Barama. A statement issued today by the President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, who accuses Barama of “fraud”, will come as a further embarrassment to supporters of the certificate.
FSC-Watch has received unconfirmed reports that the Italian certification company ICILA has issued a certificate to the Cameroonian Groupe SEFAC, which is owned by Italian timber company Vasto Legno. Although the Public Summary report of the certification is not yet available on ICILA’s website, sufficient details have already emerged to suggest that this will come as yet another major blow to FSC’s credibility.