The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was established in the early 1990’s. Their ambition is to ensure “Forests for all forever”. The three pronged approach is Environmentally, Socially and Economically. In reality this seems to mean that by maintaining the forest as a product for industry, they are able to help safeguard forests while also benefiting local people and society as a whole. This neatly ties into their statement “to halt deforestation and safeguard forest ecosystems using the power of the marketplace”. Why is then so much illegal logging happening in Romania?
Please also read: Romania´S Primeval Forests In National Parks Under Attack
So does it really work?
Historically, there are many criticisms of the FSC label. Notably FSC Watch.com published a documentary flagging some serious issues. Meanwhile, the International FSC standard is not very standard. At the time of writing this 51 different, country specific, standards existed. An example of this is the FSC Standard for Romania. Within the document, FSC states the reason for the country specific standard: “any international standard for forest management needs to be adapted at the regional or national level in order to reflect the diverse legal, social and geographical conditions of forests in different parts of the world”.
Adapting an international standard to specific ecosystems or countries might seem to be necessary in some accounts. For example, to enable a high number of forests to fulfil the standard. Moreover, what sense does a standard make when it is adapted to each particular situation, or in this case numerous countries? Additionally one might argue that such adaptations or country specific interpretations distort and diminish the overall standard. This makes it impossible to compare a standard or given quality label. In turn, an FSC approved product from Romania will not be 100% the same as one from Brazil or from elsewhere in the world. However, the idea of a standard is to have a uniform definition and set of criteria which allows comparison between products. Therefore guaranteeing the quality of a product, regardless of place of purchase or origin.
Is FSC misleading customers?
If FSC accepts 51 different local interpretations of its standard, how can a customer wanting to buy a sustainable wooden product know which standard allied to the specific product chosen? If Russia permits clearcutting as FSC acceptable but Germany does not, how can a end consumer identify this? The answer is simple: there is now way to differentiate between the applicable standards. The result is that more and more consumers are loosing faith in FSC and thus even the timber industry is now starting to question the benefits of being certified. This is bad for the efforts of all of us to identify the bad actors and promote real sustainable forest practices.
The Forest Stewardship Council advertises that it provides wood from responsible sources. Our research in the Arkhangelsk region of the Russian Federation alone suggests that the certification system cannot deliver on this promise globally.
The case in Romania
During 2014 and 2017 the Romanian FSC standard was published. Regardless of the standard, the amount of illegally logged timber in circulation has not reduced. Contradictory, FSC certified companies and timber plots have instead become exposed to the illegal activities.
Please also read: Can FSC Eco-Label Stop Logging Primeval Forests?