Forest Stewardship Council
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international, non-profit, multi-stakeholder organisation established in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC does this by setting standards for responsibly-managed forests and on forest products, along with certifying and labeling them as eco-friendly.
The FSC was established after the Earth Rio Summit 1992 tried, and failed, to reach an agreement on govt intervention to control rampant tropical deforestation. Environmental organisations, social movements, and industry then banded together to establish a voluntary system for improving logging practices and certifying sustainable timber. The director general of FSC International maintains the system is working well.
Simon Counsell of Rainforest Foundation UK vehemently disagrees. His frustration with FSC led him to co-found FSC-Watch.com in 2006, “where you can see many, many scores of examples... and all types of forests and plantations, that suggest there are very serious systemic problems in the FSC. One of them is that the FSC secretariat is unable and arguably unwilling to control the certifying bodies that are responsible for issuing certifications in FSC’s name.” Their leniency may result partly from being paid directly by the companies they are supposed to audit.
Simon Counsell is not alone. In Mar.2018, Greenpeace declined to renew its FSC membership for many of the same reasons. Losing a founding member has seriously damaged the FSC's credibility.
Forests For All Forever... Or Not?
“The success of FSC has always depended on consumer awareness and demand for FSC certified products.” New branding was launched in Apr.2015, with the strapline Forests For All Forever to reaffirm the FSC vision of saving the world’s forests for future generations; the visual identity, which includes the animals and people who live and interact in forests, reinforces "the all-encompassing approach FSC takes to sustainable forest management".ref Putting lipstick on a pig?
- Feb.11.2020: The Exploitation of Jungle. Research by DW discovered that companies accused of processing illegal timber do not necessarily lose their FSC certification, and when condemned for illegal logging in the Brazilian rainforest can continue to use it. The film investigates the connections between the FSC, illegal deforestation and the displacement of indigenous peoples and throws an unsparing light on the global timber industry. Deutsche Welle.
- Jul.27.2019: Greenwashing global logging. Does the FSC really prevent illegal deforestation? The jungles of Cambodia have been all but destroyed since 2000, and now just 25 square kilometers remain. Deforestation is responsible for more CO2 emissions than all the world’s cars and trucks put together. Companies accused of processing illegal timber do not necessarily lose their FSC certification and even a company condemned for illegal logging in the Brazilian rainforest can continue to use it. DW Video Documentary, DW Documentary.
- Jun.27.2018: Global deforestation is on an upward trend, jeopardising efforts to tackle climate change and the massive decline in wildlife. The world lost more than one football pitch of forest every second in 2017. The loss in 2017 recorded by Global Forest Watch was 29.4m hectares, the second highest recorded since the monitoring began in 2001. “The main reason tropical forests are disappearing is not a mystery – vast areas continue to be cleared for soy, beef, palm oil, timber, and other globally traded commodities,” said Frances Seymour at the World Resources Institute, which produces Global Forest Watch with its partners. “Much of this clearing is illegal and linked to corruption.” Damian Carrington, Niko Kommenda, Pablo Gutiérrez, Cath Levett, The Guardian.
The FSC’s decision-making structure consists of Environmental, Social, and Economic (industry) Chambers, each having an equal vote. But many issues get farmed out to working groups, which can take years to reach a consensus.
The General Assembly, held every 3 years, is the top FSC decision-making platform. Members of the 3 FSC chambers come together to shape the future of the certification system by discussing and voting on motions that fundamentally affect the way FSC is run. Each chamber has a veto - the power to block any initiative that goes against its interests.
At GA-2017, “the development of a voting block by the economic chamber to kill motions,” Grant Rosomon of Greenpeace wrote afterwards, became known as “the red sea” for the red “no” cards industry voters held up in unison. “This was extremely concerning,” said Rosomon, “particularly as high priority issues for the social and environment chambers were voted against without explanation, justification, or prior engagement in the cross-chamber motion preparation process.”ref
The Red Sea: Opposition for anti-competitive reasons has reared its ugly head, with FSC-certified companies wanting to prevent their competitors from being certified. The Economic Chamber, including companies such as International Paper, does not support basic transparency of maps of FSC certified areas - although this is the global norm.
Membership list, bazillions from companies, sweet fa from society + ngos
FSC certification is not an environmental label. It states that the Ten Principles have been adhered to - but these "principles" are wide open to interpretation. There are two certificates:
- Forest management certification for forest owners and managers, which confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves the natural ecosystem and benefits the lives of local people and workers, all while ensuring it sustains economically viablility. An example of what the FSC considers as "management" is the requirement that 5 trees in every 100 should be left standing; this is a green light for clear-cutting.[ref]
- Chain of custody certification for businesses manufacturing or trading forest products verifies that FSC-certified material has been identified and separated from non-certified and non-controlled material as it makes its way along the supply chain from A through to B.
- FSC 100%: signifies a product is made entirely from FSC-certified forest material.
- FSC Recycled: all the wood or paper in the product comes from reclaimed (re-used) material.
- FSC Mix: certified wood has been supplemented with non-certified materials. The non-certified material must adhere to either the "reclaimed wood" standard or the "controlled wood" standard. Controlled wood is material from "acceptable sources" that can be mixed with FSC-certified material in products that carry the FSC Mix label - but FSC Mix does not necessarily contain any FSC-certified wood whatsoever. FSC Labels
Ethical wood body warns Indonesian palm oil firm over forest clearing. After a 2-year probe, the FSC said the Korinda Group had "breached its guideliens", but would not be expelled. The FSC rejected Mighty Earth's accusations that Korinda has deliberately and illegally set fires to clear land - despite finding that Korindo had converted forests to establish oil palm plantations, destroying trees with a high conservation value. Go figure. Michael Taylor, Reuters, Jul.25.2019.
- Greenwashed Timber: How Sustainable Forest Certification Has Failed. 25 years after the FSC was founded, it is clear that it has failed. All the FSC seems to have achieved is greenwashing, and higher timber prices for FSC certified timber. Corruption is rife, and the FSC's weak-kneed "apology-acceptance policy" Richard Conniff, Yale Environment 360, Feb.20.2018.
- Greenpeace International to not renew FSC membership. Greenpeace International announced today it is not renewing its membership in the FSC. "Transparency is the foundation for effective accountability, for certification schemes, governments, and companies. For a certification scheme to be considered credible in 2018, I believe it must transparently publish the mapped boundaries of sourcing areas and assessment reports to allow external monitoring and input. We are calling on FSC and all certification schemes to act with urgency to improve their transparency. Greenpeace International, Mar.26.2018.
- Greenpeace leaving FSC: what next for commodity roundtables? Greenpeace International recently announced it is leaving the FSC, as it has lost confidence that the certification system can consistently guarantee enough protection to local peoples’ rights and forests, especially in regions with weak governance. Losing one of its founding members and one of its most vocal supporters in the NGO community means a serious blow for the credibility of the FSC certification system. This also affects the multi-stakeholder initiatives set up for other commodities following the FSC model, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the Roundtable on Responsible Soy, and the Marine Stewardship Council. Greenpeace never joined the RSPO, RTRS and MSC. From the start, some of these initiatives suffered from poor credibility among NGOs. Several issues are plaguing these commodity roundtables, such as less stringent standards in FSC, MSC, RSPO and RTRS. The enduring lack of transparency on where, and under which conditions, commodities are produced is very prominent. Retno Kusumaningtyas, Profundo, Apr.2018.
- Resolute’s flawed ‘Controlled Wood’ threatens FSC’s credibility. Greenpeace has been increasingly concerned with the growing number of certificates being awarded to poor-performing operations and weak policies and standards, such as the FSC's "controlled wood" system. Resolute Forest Products' Thunder Bay mill operations are one such example of high risk "controlled wood" entering the FSC system. This is resulting in many forest areas (where the wood is being supplied from) being wrongly classified as low risk. Greenpeace USA, Aug.29.2013.