An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

What is the FSC certifying?Tags: Canada, Russia, Sweden, Poland, USA, SGS Qualifor, Soil Association Woodmark

One of the underlying reasons for the existence of this site is that it is difficult, or impossible, even for the FSC members, to pick their way through the relentless 'public relations' output from the Secretariat, and to know what is really going on within the organisation. For example, whilst we hear repeatedly about the expanding area of the Earth's surface under FSC certification, we never seem to hear about the complaints that have been filed about any of these certificates. We never seem to hear that, for example, almost the entire Indonesian NGO community has, for several years, been calling for a cessation of the issuing of any new FSC certificates in their country (and which has been completely ignored by a number of certifiers and by the FSC itself).

Given that the Secretariat is keen to constantly remind us of how many hundreds of certificates have been issued, how many thousands of products now carry the FSC's logo, how much the trade in these products is worth etc etc, one of the basic questions that largely remains unaddressed is 'what exactly is the FSC certifying?' In order to get an answer to this, it is necessary to wade through the many pages of FSC's list of certified forests and to spend many hours doing arithmetic...

So, FSC-Watch is here presenting some 'key facts', and our own interpretations, of what the FSC is actually certifying. This is derived from an FSC presentation, dated January 2006, which is downloadable in full here.

Total area under FSC certification: 68.12 million hectares

of which:

Europe 51%

North America 31%

Latin America and Caribbean 12%

Asia-Pacific 3.5%

Africa 2.5%

Just 5 countries represent nearly two-thirds of all the FSC certified area:

Canada 23.6%

Sweden 15.3%

Russia 9.8%

Poland 9.2%

USA 8.2%

Over 90% of the total area has been certified by just four of the FSC's accredited certifiers:

Rainforest Alliance SmartWood 40.5%

SGS Qualifor 31.5%

Soil Association WoodMark 12.7%

Scientific Certification Systems 9.2%

Total number of countries in which there are certificates: 66 (by October 2006, this had risen to 82).

Of which, number of countries in which there are agreed national/regional FSC standards: 15**

Type of forest (number of certificates in each):

Natural 325

Natural/plantation 268

Plantation 188

Fully one-third of FSC's total certified area is accounted for by just the top ten largest certificates these being:

Alberta Pacific (Canada, SmartWood) 5,490,000 ha

Sveaskog (Sweden, SGS) 3,441,520 ha

SCA Skog (Sweden, SGS) 2,020,396 ha

Tembec (Canada, SmartWood) 2,015,444 ha (note: by August 2006, this had increased to 7.4 million hectares)

Hrvatske Sume (Croatia, Soil Association) 1,988,480 ha

Bergvik Skog (Sweden, Soil Association) 1,920,000 ha

Ilim Sibles Group (Russia, GFA) 1,589,944 ha

Clergue-Algoma Forest (Canada, SmartWood) 1,561,874 ha

Terneyles (Russia, SGS) 1,394,488 ha

*Northshore Forest Inc (Canada, SmartWood) 1,250,000 ha

FSC-Watch suggests some conclusions from this;

  1. Most FSC certificates are in northern latitudes, and especially in countries where there is already a relatively well regulated forestry industry. Any claims, therefore, that FSC is helping to raise forestry standards worldwide should be treated with caution.

  2. A small number of certifiers have a very strong hold over the FSC. As is reported throughout this website, there is much evidence that the certifiers are out of control. The fact that just four of them are responsible for 90% of FSC's certificates clearly puts them in a strong 'bargaining' position should FSC ever wish to strengthen its controls over them.

  3. Despite the concerns expressed by the FSC's membership (such as in successful Motions to the General Assembly in 2002 and 2006) about the continued use of certifiers' 'generic assessment standards', the vast majority (more than 80%) of the countries in which certifiers have issued certificates have no agreed national or regional FSC standard.

  4. The FSC's certification 'portfolio' is heavily dominated by a small number of very large certified areas. Because the certifiers generally charge their fees on a 'per hectare' basis, we can expect that there is intense competition amongst the certifiers to certify the largest companies, because these are the most profitable. And because of this, the 'race to the bottom' of certifiers 'standards' is likely to be the most intense, and the actual standards of assessment the weakest, for the very largest industrial loggers.

Some people might conclude from this that the FSC has managed to achieve the complete opposite of what it was originally set up to achieve.


Can you breakdown the FSC area certified by type of forest? E.g, how much certified FSC forests are plantations?

A rough figure for the number of certificates is given in this posting. But this is somewhat out of date, and we have not attempted to compile data on the *area* of plantation, forest etc covered by FSC certificates.

Since the end of 2005 (to which I think the figures given in this posting relate) there have been a number of certificates awarded to very large logging operations, such as in Canada, which I think are mostly natural forest - though if you look at the satellite images of the areas concerned, it's clear that some of these won't be natural forest for much longer.

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