An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

Slovakia - the 'race to the bottom' for FSC's certification standardsTags: Slovakia, Certifier conflict of interest, SGS Qualifor, Soil Association Woodmark

The certification by the Soil Association in 2001 of Presov Forest District (PFD, part of the state forestry service) in Slovakia, has always been controversial.

Local environmental groups, such as WOLF/Friends of the Earth Slovakia have long argued that PFD was in gross non-compliance with the FSC's Principles and Criteria. They provided detailed, Principle-by-Principle critiques of PFD's operations, both before and after the certificate was issued, detailing multiple failures to comply with the P&C. These were evidently ignored by the Soil Association, who issued the certificate, and maintained it until 2006.

But, inevitably, the problems with PFD have come back to haunt the certifier, and in a letter to WOLF, Kevin Jones, head of Soil Association WoodMark, admitted that "OZ Presov has continued to be a difficult certificate to manage and whilst they have made required improvements in some areas, you will be aware that we have issued some Major Conditions in relation to concerns about other aspects. Our intention was to evaluate these CARs in September/October. However, we have now written to OZ Presov advising that we will be terminating the certificate, as they have not provided agreement for us to carry out the proposed surveillance in September/October, and they have written to advise us that they intend to use another certification body."

That 'other certification body' turns out to be SGS - who presumably will now find that PFD is certifiable after all...

The absurdity of this situation can only really be resolved by breaking the direst financial link between the certfiers and their 'clients' the logging companies. As long as the certifiers are competing with each other for business, there will always be a 'race to the bottom' of FSC's certification standards: those certiifers with the lowest standards and who are the easiest to procure certificates from, will come to dominate the business. In fact, they already do.

The FSC also needs rules from preventing companies that are 'de-certified' from simply going to another, possibly more lax certifier.


The article above on Presov posted by Simon is misleading. It suggests that Woodmark Soil Association has "evidently ignored" non compliances with FSC P&C. This is clearly not the case as all issues raised by WOLF were investigated in detail during audits and the issues are discussed in publicly available reports. Indeed is evident that non compliances noted were explicitly dealt with through the issue of Corrective Actions (Conditions). Ultimately the certificate has been withdrawn. This not only demonstrates that as a FSC certification body we have acted fairly and with integrity but also shows that financial aspects do not overide the need to comply with FSC requirements. Kevin Jones. Woodmark Manager. Soil Association. 7 Nov 2006.

Be ashamed of yourself, Mr Jones!
I don't quite believe it.

This reminds me somewhat of what happened in Ireland. In 2002, SGS "abandoned" the certification of Coillte Teoranta, the "Irish Forestry Board". Soil Association promptly took over.

The difference is that the guys in Slovakia seem to be wise to the changeover - in Ireland we didn't know that there was a changeover until many months after it happened.

We have never found out why SGS stopped auditing Coillte Teoranta.

Is mise le meas,
Ciaran Hughes
Irish Social Stakeholder

Excuse me. It was in 2003 that SGS passed the auditorship to Soil Association.

We can't find anything misleading in Simon's article.

Sept. 2001: WOLF sent its report (including photos) on the PFD's activity prior the certificate was issued and was strongly against it due to a number and severity of PFD's non-compliances with FSC's P&C.
Dec. 2001: The certificate was issued with a number of conditions and recommendations, (some of them reflecting WOLF's objections) and with deadlines for meeting them.
Sept. 2002: During an annual audit WOLF expressed that no improvements had been done, that PFD had failed to meet the conditions and ignored the completion dates. WOLF sent a report with additional comments and new facts and called for the withdrawal of the certificate.
Dec. 2003: WOLF couldn't participate at a stakeholder meeting and auditors, although agreed on coming to the WOLF's office, apologized at the day of their departure. However, SA's report says: "WOLF are still concerned over the majority of points raised in the 2002 exercise which they believe are still current."
2004: No annual audit was carried out.
Oct. 2005: WOLF sent its third detailed report on non-compliances with FSC's P&C, non-fulfillments of set up conditions and completion dates and called for the withdrawal of the certificate as NO improvement could be observed. During an auditors'; visit WOLF kept hearing that FSC was a process. The process has been going on for four years with no improvements. Thus regarding the PFD it was pretty obvious that it would be forever lasting process. However, we had to wait for the SA's annual report until late summer 2006! At that time WOLF has been already approached by SGS calling for our view on the PFD's activity.
When WOLF communicated with Kevin Jones in September 2006, the certificate hasn't been withdrawn yet so the question is when in fact it was withdrawn. If it really was, it happened two months or even less before termination of five-year validity of the certificate and at the moment when PFD has been already undergoing a new FSC certification process.

Btw, in the case of PFD we can also see another link: certifier - logging company (an FSC failer, undergoing a new FSC certification) - (FSC certified) wood processing company situated in the region.

Maria Hudakova
WOLF Forest Protection Movement, Slovakia

Maria, a chara,

I read with utmost interest your posting.

Could you put a link here to the documents that WOLF prepared, outlining PFDs non-compliances, if they are available, and any response received from Soil Association Woodmark, if available?

Is mise le meas,
Ciaran Hughes
Irish Social Stakeholder in the FSC Process

Slovak environmental NGOs ‘sickened’ by re-certification of Presov Forest District: the FSC’s failings laid bare | FSC-Watch
FSC Watch: Slovak environmental NGOs sickened by re-certification of Presov Forest District: the FSCs failings laid bare
Last month, FSC-Watch reported on the race to the bottom of FSC standards for certification of the Pr...

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