Greenpeace International ends its Forest Stewardship Council membership

The activist non-profit ended its long relationship with FSC on the grounds that the certification body is no longer meeting its aims of protecting forests and human rights.

Icebreaker Greenpeace
The Icebreaker, one of Greenpeace’s campaign ships. Image: un flaneur, CC BY-NC-ND/2.0

The international arm of Greenpeace has ended its membership with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certification organisation that aims to ensure responsibly managed forests.

“We believe robust timber certification is a helpful but imperfect tool for protecting people’s rights and improving forest management, which is why Greenpeace International will not renew its Forest Stewardship Council membership,” Matt Daggett, a campaign leader at Greenpeace International, said in a statement.

Greenpeace announced its decision on March 26, saying in a briefing statement that the FSC was not accomplishing its goals of protecting forests and the rights of people who live there. The organisation called on the FSC to increase the transparency of its certification process and to do more to ensure that certified companies were indeed adhering to the FSC’s social and environmental standards.

Greenpeace also said the FSC needed to go beyond the certification of timber operations to safeguard standing forests. The briefing statement noted that the FSC’s application of its policies across countries was “uneven,” especially in places where forest governance was lacking.

Several national Greenpeace offices, located in countries with stronger forest governance, are sticking with the FSC, including those in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Finland and China, according to the FSC.

FSC’s not proactively doing the due diligence to screen these companies that are coming in and then using FSC for greenwashing.

Grant Rosoman, global forests solutions senior adviser, Greenpeace International

Greenpeace International confirmed that it would not seek membership with other “weaker forest certification schemes” such as the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

In an interview, FSC director general Kim Carstensen said that losing a member organisation that helped to found the FSC in 1994 was “of course sad.” But Carstensen pointed to a 2014 study of FSC-certified concessions in the Congo Basin by the Center for International Forestry Research, or CIFOR. He said the researchers found that FSC certification delivered on its promises, even in “the area of the world that’s most difficult to work in.”

“They looked at social indicators related to health, to education, to access to water and sanitation,” Carstensen said, “and what they found was that for every single indicator they looked at, it was better being in an FSC concession than being in another concession.”

‘A wider landscape strategy’

Grant Rosoman, a global forests solutions senior adviser with Greenpeace International, said the FSC had been too focused on “simply just certifying logging,” and that it needed to do more for forest protection in general.

“In many cases, logging is the first step toward forest degradation and then forest loss,” Rosoman said in an interview.

He pointed to the need for the FSC to step up its involvement in halting the logging of the large blocks of relatively undisturbed forests known as intact forest landscapes, or IFLs.

“These areas have the highest carbon, the highest biodiversity,” Rosoman said. “These are hugely significant areas, and we shouldn’t even be logging them at all.”

At the 2014 FSC general assembly meeting in Spain, the group adopted a motion aimed at ending the logging of IFLs, which Greenpeace helped to write. But despite the passage of Motion 65 nearly four years ago, Rosoman said that “it hasn’t been fully implemented, so these IFL areas are still being logged by FSC-certified operations.”

Critics say subsequent amendments weakened the motion and created loopholes allowing companies continued access to IFLs.

Carstensen said IFL protection was “something that we’d love to work with [Greenpeace] on.” But he added the FSC couldn’t do it alone and that it needed the support of governments in forest countries.

“Then, certification will be one element of a wider landscape strategy,” Carstensen said.

Becoming transparent

Greenpeace International also said the FSC must publish audit reports and chain-of-custody certificates, which are meant to ensure that products come from FSC-certified sources, as well as maps of FSC-certified concession boundaries.

Carstensen said they already put the “most important” audit reports online and that they would be looking into publishing the chain-of-custody certificates, “if this is something that stakeholders want.”

Concerning the maps, “FSC comes from a time when digital maps weren’t the norm,” he said. But he also agreed with Greenpeace that publishing them was necessary, adding, “We need to find ways to make sure that these maps do become available because it’s information that the companies have that I think the public will be expecting.”

He acknowledged that a motion about making maps publicly available was voted down at the most recent general assembly meeting, held in Vancouver in November 2017.

“There is a concern or an uncertainty, and I’m sure it’s mainly among certificate holders who worry, what will those maps be used for, in terms of campaigning,” Carstensen said. “This is something that we do need to discuss.”

But Rosoman said, “We want to know about good operations, and we want to be able to point where they are. If they’ve nothing to hide, why wouldn’t they produce a map?”

Without that window into FSC-certified operations, Rosoman argued that some aren’t sticking to FSC standards.

“They’re companies that are carrying out deforestation or human rights abuses, and they are currently allowed access to the system,” he said.

He pointed to the South Korean agribusiness group Korindo as one example. Korindo is alleged to have cut down some 300 square kilometers (116 square miles) of rainforest in Indonesia to make way for oil palm plantations.

Carstensen said the FSC had “systems to deal with those poor performers.” On June 7, 2017, the FSC noted the complaint on its website.

But the complaint came from the NGO Mighty Earth. Rosoman said the FSC must do more to ensure that companies aren’t breaching the environmental and human rights standards that they are required to uphold.

“FSC’s not proactively doing the due diligence to screen these companies that are coming in and then using FSC for greenwashing,” he added.

Still a stakeholder

Rosoman and Carstensen both said it was possible that Greenpeace International’s withdrawal from the FSC might not change the status quo very much. Carstensen said the FSC continually sought the input of member and non-member organisations alike and would continue to welcome engagement with Greenpeace.

Rosoman said it would likely mean Greenpeace would return to “the more classic” role of being an “independent watchdog.”

“Just because we’re not a member doesn’t mean we don’t support certification as a tool,” he added.

In the organisation’s statement, Greenpeace’s Daggett highlighted the importance of ensuring that forestry operations continued to uphold specific standards.

“When implemented effectively, Forest Stewardship Council certification can protect people’s rights and improve forest management,” Daggett said, “but we no longer have confidence that FSC alone can consistently guarantee enough protection, especially when forests are facing multiple threats.”

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