New report: FSC’s Closed Shop – Shutting Down Forestry in The Developing World

Forest certification under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been surrounded by controversy since its inception. Most of the controversy has been generated by activist organisations publicly attacking private sector forest operators that are implementing FSC certification. There are no other industrial standards or environmental management standards that are subject to as much controversy.

Industrial or environmental management standards should be robust, technically sound and impartial. But FSC is highly politicised. FSC’s politicisation and broader governance failings allow FSC to be used not so much as a system to promote sustainable forest management, but as a means to place prohibitive restrictions on forestry operators. This appears to undermine precisely what FSC should be trying to achieve: broader application of sustainable forest management.
Forest certification should serve to guarantee consumers that the products they are buying are certified under a system that adheres to robust principles, and guarantee producers that the standards they are complying with are impartial and apolitical. Part of this involves undertaking an approach to ongoing improvements in management and processes, and complying with best practice for standards and conformance.

Certification under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) cannot provide this guarantee.

FSC standards seek to achieve ‘responsible’ forestry — as opposed to SFM. This wording is deliberate, and it is not based on a consensus position; it reflects FSC attempt to regulate activities beyond the reasonable scope of a forestry certification scheme. FSC claims to be a member-based organisation that operates transparently and is based on consensus.

However, FSC’s governance structure places a great deal of arbitrary decision making authority into its executive, with no grounds for appeal.

FSC fails to meet several key requirements related to best practice in standard setting and conformance. There is no credible separation between its standard-setting body, its accreditation body and its umbrella accreditation organisation. This means that FSC is in a position to both set the standard and determine which certifiers are able to certify. Further, its role in its own umbrella accreditation organisation means it self-assesses its own impartiality.

There are also other elements within FSC that are of concern, namely that there is a lack of science in its standards, and that its executive can exercise arbitrary judgement over who may use the standard, regardless of whether they meet it or not.

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