NGOs urge ‘immediate’ reform at ethical wood label to fight global deforestation

25.10.2021

Open letter signed by environmental and civil society organisations accuses the Forest Stewardship Council of failing to protect forests and indigenous groups

The FSC’s tree-tick logo, which adorns household goods around the globe, is meant to tell shoppers the products come from legal and sustainable sources. Credit: Alamy

London, 25 October 2021 – Environmental and civil society groups today publish an open letter accusing the world’s leading green certification body of failing to protect forests and indigenous groups.

Read the full letter here.

In the letter, non-profit organisations representing millions of members worldwide urge the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to commit to “immediate” reforms to help fight global deforestation.

The FSC’s tree-tick logo, which adorns household goods around the globe, is meant to tell shoppers the products come from legal and sustainable sources.

But deep-rooted flaws have embroiled the ethical wood label in environmental and human rights abuses, leading some of its early advocates like Greenpeace to part ways with the scheme.

In the last few months alone, the FSC has been accused of failing to spot illegal logging in protected forests crucial to Earth’s climate, allowing vast volumes of suspect wood to be laundered through its supply chains in China, and lobbying to weaken draft EU rules aimed at protecting biodiversity.

“No system is completely free from issues,” write the authors, which include Earthsight, Greenpeace and Fern. “But for the number of failures to have occurred, it means FSC’s weaknesses are systemic.”

The letter’s release coincides with the start of the four-day FSC General Assembly gathering of loggers, timber traders, big-name retail brands, indigenous peoples’ organisations, environmentalists and NGOs on Monday.

World leaders attending the COP26 UN climate summit next month are also expected to debate ambitious goals to end deforestation, the leading cause of climate change after burning fossil fuels. Clearing forests not only releases vast quantities of carbon dioxide stored in trees but threatens local and indigenous communities.

The NGOs call on the Bonn-based FSC to increase transparency over its actions, remove conflicts of interest and take a tougher stance on companies caught flouting its rules.

“FSC could be a powerful tool to protect and help restore the world’s forests and has had beneficial effects in some regions,” they add. “However, we share urgent and serious concerns over its failure to transform in response to the challenges forests face in the 21st century, and believe it is increasingly serving to undermine rather than support its own stated goals.”

The four-page letter also pins the blame on forest industry representatives on the FSC board for stymying reforms aimed at protecting indigenous peoples and the planet.

It warns board members the FSC faces a “crossroads” and that being the ‘least worst’ ethical wood label on the market means little in a climate crisis.

Earthsight director Sam Lawson said: “The many scandals involving FSC-certified firms are not ‘bad apples’. They involve some of the world’s largest logging firms, timber processors and wood retailers. And the same underlying causes appear time and again. “Yet FSC has proven incapable of acknowledging its problems, and is rapidly running out of time to fix them.”

Alexey Yaroshenko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s forest department, said: “Thirty years ago, we had very high hopes for the FSC – we hoped that certification would be the driving force behind forest perestroika, the transition from harvesting the last forest wildernesses to good forestry.

“But, unfortunately, over the past thirty years, forest problems have only grown, certified use of forests differs little from uncertified ones, and nice words about sustainability prop up an archaic model of forest use that should have died out in the last century.”

Yehor Hrynyk, forestry expert at the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group, said: “There were dozens of reports and publications about the FSC’s failures during the last 15 years. The FSC had plenty of time to react and try to solve the problems. But they didn’t. Therefore, this letter must be the last one.

“If the FSC fails to react, environmentalists should forget the FSC like a nightmare and focus on more progressive approaches to the conservation of forests. If it doesn’t change now, the FSC is not worth more resources spent trying to improve it.”

Timer Manurung, chairman of Jakarta-based environmental group Auriga Nusantara, said: “By sending this letter, we expect the FSC to drastically improve its governance and performance. This way it can set the bar in timber certification, that will also influence other certification schemes to do better.”

Shin Young Chung, director of the Korean non-profit lawyers’ group Advocates for Public Interest Law, said: “Accepting requests from NGOs all around the world will be a starting point for the FSC to address critical issues that they have been facing. We have no time for tolerating greenwashing.”

Trésor Nzila Kendet, executive director of Centre d’Actions pour le Développement (CAD) and former director of the Congolese Human Rights Observatory (OCDH), said: “The FSC raised much hope in the Congo Basin countries as a mechanism additional to Voluntary Partnership Agreements to fight illegal deforestation. However, certification should also help to end the serious impact of logging on indigenous peoples and forest communities. It should no longer ignore the issue of their continued marginalisation in the management of forest resources.”

Notes to editors:

  • Earthsight is a UK-based non-profit organisation that uses in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption.
  • The open letter to the Forest Stewardship Council and full list of signatories are found here.
  • Earthsight’s ‘FSC hall of shame’, detailing some of the ethical wood label’s recent scandals involving environmental and human rights abuses and its failure to address their underlying causes, can be read here.

  • For more information, email press@earthsight.org.uk

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