FSC-Watch

An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

Reforming the FSC by Competitive TenderingTags: Worldwide, Certifier conflict of interest, All certifiers

One the major structural problems that seems to underlie much of what is going wrong in the FSC is that contracts for certification assessments are arranged directly between logging companies and the FSC's accredited certifiers. Because of this - and especially because the award of a certificate will ensure future profits for the certifiers from monitoring and re-assessments - certifiers have a strong financial incentive to award certificates even when the logging company does not comply with the FSC's Principles and Criteria.

Another consequence is that certifiers are effectively competing with each other to show that they are the most likely to award a certificate - and the way that they do this is by lowering their assessment standards, 'turning a blind eye' to any major problems that they find, or taking a very 'sympathetic' view towards the company under scrutiny. This serves to completely undermine the integrity of the FSC system.

The FSC should, through its monitoring and accreditation procedures, be dealing with these problems, but in practice it cannot and does not: its contract with the certifiers prevents it from doing anything that might 'harm the economic interests' of the certifiers. Moreover, some of the 'Big 4' certifiers (SGS, SCS, SmartWood and Soil Association Woodmark) have simply threatened to leave the FSC if it is too strict in applying the rules.

Thus, the certifiers are effectively completely out of control.

** A proposed solution**

Contracts to carry out FSC certification assessments should be awarded to accredited certifiers by the FSC Secretariat. The company seeking certification would request the FSC Secretariat for a certification assessment, would pay the FSC directly, and the FSC would in turn pay the certifier winning the contract. Part of the money paid to the Secretariat would be retained for the services provided.

Certifiers would be asked by the Secretariat to tender for upcoming certification assessments . Tenders for certification contracts would be assessed against a number of criteria, including:

*The expertise and range of staff to be employed in the assessment, i.e, specialists in forest ecology, anthropology, forestry and 'economic forensics' (to be able to check for corporate fraud and other financial malpractices);

The certification contract issued by the FSC would make specific stipulations, such as the date by which the Public Certification summary would be made available. A further condition could be that certifiers would have to commit to making random unannounced monitoring visits to certified companies The contract would include penalty clauses such that any failures to properly implement the contract would result in reductions in final payment by the Secretariat and/or losing the contract. The contract would also provide provision that any subsequent failure identified in the assessment (see below) would render the assessment fee returnable to the Secretariat.

The Secretariat would be required to report to the Board on a regular (monthly or quarterly) basis the request for certification assessment that had been received, and the results of the tendering process, including the full 'scoring' of each tendering certifier for each contract awarded.

In order to avoid 'slippage' by the Secretariat in the assessment of the quality of tenders - or corruption of Secretariat staff - a random sample of certification contracts and assessments would be inspected annually by an independent external evaluator. This evaluator would report directly to the FSC Board, and its report would be publicly available.

Possible disadvantages

Possible advantages

Comments

All,
I'm a FSC member of Economic North Chamber, and, yes, I'm finding Simon's proposal absolutely useful - and even necessary in order to avoid future stagnation of the FSC certificatien scheme.

In this way, "contracts to carry out FSC certification assessments should be awarded to accredited certifiers by the FSC Secretariat. The company seeking certification would request the FSC Secretariat for a certification assessment, would pay the FSC directly, and the FSC would in turn pay the certifier winning the contract. Part of the money paid to the Secretariat would be retained for the services provided. Certifiers would be asked by the Secretariat to tender for upcoming certification assessments."

Best

Karl H. Kehr

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