Illegal logging and the FSC logo – the challenge in Romania?

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?

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.

Professor, Dr.Pierre Ibisch
Center of Econics and Ecosystems Management Eberswalde
FSC accepted clear cuts in the Arkhangelsk region

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.


The full report for the FSC Standard for Romania can be found here.

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2 thoughts on “Illegal logging and the FSC logo – the challenge in Romania?

  1. Hi Kris, basically you are right.. but the main issue is the willingness or rather non-willingness by FSC to address these issues. As you can see in the documentary, FSC does tolerate clearcuts not only in conifer forests, it also certifies Palm Tree Plantation and as documented sometimes against the will of the local communities. FSC has its merits, but if the shortcomings are not addressed urgently, transparent and with diligence, it will loose the little faith the consumer still place in it.Romania is another such case, where the shortcomings of FSC is blatantly obvious. https://youtu.be/SObX9XE2-xM

    Lets strive for improving FSC but FSC must take the first step.

  2. Although I do not know enough on the specific situation in Romania and the area in Russia mentioned to judge them and although one cannot deny that there are serious issues with some of the FSC-certified products, I would like to comment to the important critique that there is not one FSC standard for the whole world. This needs some nuance.

    In fact, there is one universal set of (9) principles to which every national standard has to comply. Under the aspect of ‘sustainability’, these principles clearly state that no logging of primary forest, or wood originating from deforestation can be certified. Under ‘legal conditions’ it also states that forests are only eligible to certification if they comply with all local legislation, so also wood originating from illegal logging or fraude should never be certified.
    On the other hand, it is evident that organisational and ecological conditions are not comparable all over the world, so it is logical that local standards are developed, in order to implement the generic principles to the local situation. These standards are always developed by a local group of experts involving environmental organisations, and is only endorsed when accepted by all parties and the international committee. This procedure should prevent any unacceptable criteria to be included.

    The exemple of clearcuts can be exemplary here : this type of management is indeed unacceptable as ‘sustainable management’ in broadleaved forests, but may perfectly fit standards of sustainability in boreal and other pine forests, where large-scale disturbances are part of natural dynamics, as long as this is not done in primary forests and the size is within defined limits, and enough retention trees and set asides are left uncut (e.g. in Swedish standards)
    In this context, it is logic that ‘clearcut’ is excluded in central-european or tropical country standards, but is allowed in boreal forests.

    you could compare the FSC-system with international principles, but national standards, with the EU-directives (like the habitat directive): they also mark the baseline and goals, but leave it to the individual countries to decide how to implement this in practice.

    This all said, I do agree that the system is not perfect, and too often wood lots unjustly receive the label, but that does not imply that the FSC certification has failed as a whole : it is still to my opinion the most reliable label for sustainable wood products, that has been used as a lever to improve situations where needed, so it would be a bad idea to dispose of it completely. I do believe that vigilance is needed, and any unjust certifications should be reported to the independent certifiers, in order to, not only, improve the reliability of the label, but (more importantly) the forest management in the field.

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