An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

Certifying the uncertifiable: Soil Association WoodMark, Perhutani, and human rights abusesTags: Indonesia, Partial certification, Plantations, Certifier conflict of interest, Soil Association Woodmark

The Soil Association's FSC-accredited certifier WoodMark has just announced a 'stakeholder consultation' for the potential certification of two management units of the huge Indonesian plantation company, Perhutani.

Many people, not least members of the FSC who care about the organisation's reputation, will probably be somewhat surprised about this: the very same Perhutani management units were amongst those that had their FSC certificates 'suspended' (and evidently completely withdrawn) by SmartWood in August 2001. SmartWood noted at the time that there had been "non-compliances with the FSC's standards", though no further details were ever made publicly available.

More problematic still is Perhutani's continuing reported association with gross abuses of human rights, including the killing of local people. The company, and its predecessor Perum Perhutani, which was a state run enterprise responsible for the establishment of large areas of mainly teak plantations on the island of Java, has gained notoreity for the brutal treatment of people living in areas which have now been smothered by monoculture tree crops. Researchers in Indonesia have estimated that, in the last 8 years, Perhutani have been associated with violent incidents involving 71 people, 24 of whom have died. Two people have been killed already this year.

This casts an interesting light on the slogan currently being used by the Soil Association in relation to its 60th Anniversary, which claims "The Soil Association, 1946- 2006: Sixty years pioneering organic farming, championing human health". The families and friends of those in Java who have lost their lives at Perhutani's hands may take issue with the last part of this claim.

Further information on Perhutani's plantation units, previous certification attempts, violence, as well as land tenure conflicts in the two areas currently under assessment is available here:



This issue is firstly about those who suffered and died. It's always hard to judge how violence came about, but surely, more victims have fallen on the part of the communities than they have on the part of the company or auditors.

Even though we all know that the legal system in Indonesia is flawed to the bone, it would have been good to include in the report the legal proceedings on violence, murder and land grabbing. It would make things easier for auditors as they would start with Principle #1 on legality.

Furthermore, this is about the issue of partial certification. As far as I know, within FSC individual management units within a group can be certified, provided that the group commits to work towards the same practice elsewhere. I don't know the details of this arrangement, but this appears a priority area for FSC to improve on, even when this will imply serious talks about decertification of certified units due to bad practise elsewhere and the not acceptance of certificates issued in perfectly well managed area for other units are still way off anywhere from being somewhat ok. The bottom line is that forestry companies should be certified, not individual management units.

What is the scope of the 'controversial wood' definition in this context?

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