An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

FSC's greenwash at the Convention on BiodiversityTags: Plantations

Yesterday, FSC organised a side-event at the Ninth Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in Bonn. Activists from Global Forests Coalition and World Rainforest Movement made their voices heard at the side event.

FSC's panel responded to a series of questions from the moderator, Stefan Salvador, FSC's Chain of Custody Programme Manager. Hans Schipulle, Chairman of the Congo Basin Forestry Partnership, told us that modern methods of forest management are carbon neutral or even carbon negative, although he provided no evidence to back up this statement. He agreed with Global Witness' recent report which described the situation in the Congo Basin as a disaster. But he said that Global Witness' recommendation to stop logging in the Congo Basin is a "nice position, but completely unfeasible politically". He argued that FSC is an instrument, which can be used to force forest managers to comply to standards. He didn't mention that FSC is a voluntary mechanism and can do nothing if companies decide not to get certified.

Marcedonio Cortave, Director of the ACOFOP Association of Forest Communities of Peten, told us how wonderful certification in Guatemala is. And Andreas Heusler, of Precious Woods, did the same for his company's operations in Brazil. No surprises there, then. Most companies tell us that what they are doing is wonderful. CBD was swarming with companies doing precisely that.

Christoph Thies of Greenpeace International explained that FSC is part of a long-term vision. According to this vision, we need to step up the area of protected forests in the world. At least half of the forests in the world should be protected, including community managed forests and completely protected areas. Regulation of forestry activities are crucial - one day, when forests are properly regulated, FSC may no longer be necessary. Thies pointed out that in countries without adequate forest laws, FSC cannot work. This is the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, he added.

Thies said he agreed with the message on the T-shirt I was wearing: "Plantations are not Forests". However, he said, for any product that cannot or should not be banned (inlcuding palm oil, soya and timber), we need a mechanism to determine which products are better. He did not point out that FSC has certified some of the worst industrial tree plantations in the world.

Of course FSC's problems are not limited to certification of plantations. Thies could have mentioned a Greenpeace report about problematic certifications. Greenpeace has been working on it for several years, but the report has never been made public.

After listening to 45 minutes of polite chat from the panel about how lovely FSC is, activists held up a banner reading "FSC: Stop Certifying Monoculture Tree Plantations". They also read out parts of the statement below and distributed copies to the audience.

During the short discussion that followed, Stefan Salvador described how FSC attempts to monitor the certifying bodies and said, "We will never be in the position where the certifying bodies are perfect." FSC-watch has pointed out many problems particularly relating to FSC's failure to control the certifying bodies. FSC appears reluctant to even acknowledge that this is a problem.

After a few questions and a short discussion, the moderator, FSC's Stefan Salvador, closed the meeting, although several more people wanted to ask questions. After the meeting Christoph Thies said he would welcome a broad discussion about the issues raised during the meeting. FSC, it seems, is keen to avoid any such discussion.

FSC is misleading the public

"Forest certification according to the principles of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) balances social, environmental and economic interests. FSC requirements address all core elements of the UN Convention on Biodiversity. In fact, through FSC certification these have been successfully implemented in over 100 million ha of forests around the globe."

The above statement is posted in FSC's special section on its web site titled "FSC at the UN Conference of Biodiversity." What the statement does not say is that the 100 million hectare figure hides millions of hectares of monoculture tree plantations that have been falsely certified as 'forests'.

At the same time, it hides the fact that social and environmental movements from around the world have been for years denouncing tree plantations and demanding FSC to stop certifying them, because among many reasons they destroy biodiversity. This demonstrates that FSC is misleading the CBD with its statement.

Be they plantations of eucalyptus, pine, acacia or oil palm, these large scale monocultures are mostly aimed at feeding northern consumers with growing volumes of raw materials extracted in southern countries at a huge social and environmental cost.

Local communities are displaced to give way to endless rows of identical trees that displace other life forms in the area. These plantations not only destroy biodiversity but they also deplete and pollute water resources while soils become degraded. Human rights violations are rife, ranging from the loss of livelihoods and displacement, to repression and even cases of torture and death.

Apart from having to confront governments and corporations, local communities struggling against large-scale monoculture tree plantations must face the additional problem posed by the fact that these same plantations are being given credibility through certification by the FSC. In fact, most core elements of the Convention on Biodiversity have been effectively violated in those millions of hectares of certified plantations around the globe.

Certification of plantations by FSC is symptomatic of the dominance of corporate interests in FSC. The credibility of FSC is increasingly undermined by certification of these and other destructive projects. Nowadays FSC's decision-making is controlled by corporate interests which try to convince consumers that buying more timber products is good for biodiversity. This is undermining the efforts of environmental organizations, which are working on educating consumers on the need to reduce consumption.

Plantations are not forests and FSC should not certify them!

FSC should STOP being a tool for corporate interests!

World Rainforest Movement and Global Forest Coalition


Can someone please explain why Greenpeace is supporting this disgraceful organisation? Why are they covering-up the FSC's problems?

Yours, a confused Greenpeace supporter.


Send Greenpeace your torn-up membership card and you might get an answer.

I think it's because they've been working on FSC for so long that they don't want to admit that it has failed. If they do, they lose donations. The problem is that the longer they wait, the more stupid they look when it all falls down.

Dave Nickarz

Plantations are not forests - agreed.

Next to food timber is the most important material on the planet, from cradle to grave we are dependant on it. (Ignoring oil - mankind have managed without it for thousands of years).

So where are the six billion people on this planet to source their wood based products from?

Clearly not natural forests, that would be silly, short-sighted, devastating and any other opprobrious superlative that you can think of.

So where is the alternative to FSC? What are you going to promote?

The FSC principles and criteria when well-applied to plantations will (and do) 1) improve biodiversity 2) protect local people 3) release sustainable timber onto the market.

The problem - as I've said before - is the FSC policing and controlling their CB's. This website is assisting in achieving that.

I note from the latest 'FSC news' that SGS in Poland and IMO in Chile have had their certificate awarding abilities suspended. Is this not a sign of progress in achieving a more credible organisation?

Hopefully the CB's responsible for the issues in Manitoba, Eiree, the Congo and other controversial places will also be held to account.


FSC is misnomer. It should be TCS = Timber Certification Scheme..

Aside of that, there's no way natural resources regime be controlled by such mechanism without good and clean governance at the source ends. Good and clean governance is an absolute precondition for similar attempts, such as MSS (Marine Stewardship Council), MAC (Marine Aquarium Council), RSPO (Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil), etc.


FSC is your failure, not mine. I've always advocated for the protection of forests and ecologically intelligent forestry. I will support a forestry scheme that 1) improves biodiversity 2) protects local people 3) releases sustainable timber onto the market--non of which FSC achieves.

There is no policing, just a bureaucratic nightmare for people who care about forests. Our FSC-rubber-stamped Tembec newsprint mill in Pine Falls, Manitoba has just eliminated all of their post consumer recycled content from their newsprint. Smartwood didn't even know about it when activists called them about it.

I'm not holding my breath that Smartwood will be held to account for the Tembec certification in Manitoba. Tembec paid dearly for that green logo and they got their money's worth.

David Nickarz

I find it depressing that something that I have been convinced has the potential to be a real force for good has such cogent opponents, who have serious issues that need to be addressed.

As a professional forester I initially resisted FSC and everything to do with it. It was (here in the UK) unnecessary in my opinion.

However I have seen much good achieved, on the land and also in the wood supply chain.

One thing that does give me hope is that even the most ardent opposer don't seem to have come up with a viable alternative to the FSC principles and criteria, so I remain convinced that it is the way forward.

A few more high profile certificate removals may make a significant difference, or a high profile 'removal, name and shame' column on the new FSC website.



Hi Mark,

I'm glad we agree that plantations are not forests. To FSC, a plantation is just a type of forest.

To answer your question about where the six billion people on the planet are going to source their wood based products from, we have to ask where the majority of the consumption is taking place and who is doing the consuming. We are opposing the FSC certification of large-scale industrial tree plantations. Many of these plantations are established to provide raw material for the pulp and paper industry. The (over)consumption of paper takes place predominantly in the global North. In high income countries per capita paper consumption is about 230 kg/year. In low income countries it is a little over 4 kg/year. In Finland, per capita consumption is 325 kg/year, about six times the world average of 55 kg/year. (These figures come from the World Resources Institute's Earth Trends website, for the year 2005.)

FSC does not address this inbalance in any way. In fact, FSC seems happy to make things worse. In a few days time the 4th FSC Global Paper Forum will take place in Düsseldorf. The event is sponsored by in part by Mondi (South Africa) and Suzano (Brazil), both companies with very large expanses of industrial tree plantations. The Paper Forum is explicity aimed at finding "Market opportunities for FSC-labelled paper".

So, how about promoting reduced consumption of paper and paper products as an alternative to FSC certification of industrial tree plantations?

Vast amounts of paper consumed in the North is simply waste paper. The list is long. Junk mail. Unwanted mail order catalogues. Telephone books. Free newspapers. Excessive packaging. Large magazine print runs (a large percentage of magazines printed end up being pulped rather than sold). Unnecessary printing in offices (and on home computers).

Even if we assume for a moment that FSC's principles and criteria might help, the reality is that they are not been well applied. FSC-Watch has documented several problematic certifications of plantations and World Rainforest Movement has documented more. Principle 10 is by far the weakest of FSC's principles. FSC knows this and passed a motion at its AGM in 2002 to carry out a plantations review. Almost six years later and it's still business as usual. Most recently, SGS Qualifor issued an FSC certificate to Veracel despite the serious problems that the company has created for local communities.

SGS has been suspended in Poland. That's good. But when Accreditation Services International carried out an audit of SGS in 2007, the audit report noted that this was not the first time that ASI had found that SGS was in breach of FSC rules. Why has SGS not also been suspended in Uganda, Russia, Guyana and Spain?

I agree that FSC needs to start removing egregious certificates. But "a few" isn't enough, there are far too many of them. However, I do like the idea of a "removal, name and shame" column on FSC's new website. That would be a major improvement in FSC's transparency.

cheers, Chris

Well, actions are louder than words.

Regarding the Tembec mill in Pine Falls, there is going to be market-based actions to remedy the situation. Funny thing is that FSC was created as a tool for the market, and to avoid market-based campaigns.

How ironic.

Dave Nickarz


Lets assume these certificates are suspended. OK
Are the timber activites going to cease? Are operations going to stop?

The reality is that they will not stop. Production and sales will continue. It is impossible to convert plantations back to a pristine state, as it is for any farming activity to be converted back(such as cotton on which you proudly displayed your statement).

You should be spending your time and money (printed on what????) on trying to reduce the consumption, reduce mail orders, reduce the advertising rubbish that litters our conunty, and then you will be contributing. Right now your resources will result in a few companies going under the radar, going back to the old way of working, and contributing to the downward slide of the earth.

Depressingly yours.

Peter Pan

Hi Peter,

Thanks for this. I agree that plantations operations are not going to stop if the FSC certificate is suspended. But that does not justify certifying them in the first place. The question to be asked is simple: Do the operations comply to FSC's Principles and Criteria? If they comply, then they can be certified. If not, then the certificate cannot be issued.

Was Veracel "under the radar" before it was certified? No. World Rainforest Movement had been writing about Veracel for several years before SGS decided to issue the certificate. Is there any difference between Veracel's old way of working and their new FSC-certified way of working? No. Veracel is one example of an industrial tree plantation operation that should not have been certified. The certification simply helps the company to greenwash its operations, facilitating the company's planned expansion (Veracel has plans to double the capacity of its pulp mill).

By the way, you might be interested in a campaign aimed specifically at reducing paper consumption, which was launched today: http://www.shrinkpaper.org

cheers, Chris


I am not sure who Vercel is and when and how they were operating, but lets presume they are certified, but there are issues outstanding. Dont you think that through dialogue, accompanying audits by the FSC and a sense of matureness that they could be fully compliant in the the near future, if they were not perceived to be compliant right now.
I understand that the P&C are about performance, but surely there must be a mechanism where companies can imporve and then if they show no progess they get shamed.

The uncontrolled expansion and indiscriminate planting of any monoculture (maize, wheat, cotton, Eucs, pines, oil palm) has disatrous effects on the surrounding biodiversity, however with the human population growing and our demands rising, these activites are going to take place, and we need to create an forum where Good practices will be applied to try and mitigate the effects.

In the intersts of my children,

Sure, perhaps there is a place for some kind of 'continuous improvement' system, with carefully designed 'waymarks', indicators of improvement, hurdles, timescales and deadlines for improvement, i.e, all the kinds of measures that would be needed to ensure that improvement was actually happening. Unfortunately, FSC is not that system: FSC was set up as a performance-based system, not an improvement-based system. It's structure and it's claim (to guarantee that products are from sources actually complying with certain defined criteria) is completely inappropriate for measuring 'improvement'.

What is happening with many FSC certifications such as Veracel is not a properly ordered system of measuring improvement, it is simply certification bodies expanding their markets by issuing certificates to companies that clearly do not actually comply with the Principles and Criteria, but with the vague hope (or possibly not even that) that they company might comply at some time in the future. But in many cases, such companies never actually comply, and of course once they've got their certificate, and once the certifier has taken its profit and seen that they have got away with it, then there's no real incentive for anyone to actually do any further improvement.

FSC's Accreditation Services audits of the certifiers is repeatedly showing that certifiers have knowingly issued, and maintained for many years, certificates for companies that were clearly non-compliant. In a few but growing number of cases (such as Perhutani in Indonesia, Barama in Guyana) the evidence of persistent non-improvement of non-compliant companies has eventually resulted in cancellation of the certificate.

This all does a disservice to the FSC, but more importantly, it is knowingly fraudulent, insofar as the public is led to believe that FSC labeled products actually come from a source that is compliant with the P&C, NOT that the company MIGHT be compliant with the P&C at some stage in the future.

I take it that you don't lie to your children, so should the FSC be allowed to?

All the best



you are very good with words but weak with solutions. How are we going to manage the expansion of monocultures, as Peter said, in a controlled manner. What is your suggestion.

IM Pro

Talk and log.

This is a phrase we use in North America when there is nothing but talking while the forests are logged. FSC is now a mechanism to keep conservationists talking while the logging companies log the forests to death.

Look at the substance of our debates. It's as if we have to defend opposing any logging what so ever.

Wilderness needs no defense, just more defenders.

David Nickarz

Dear IM Pro,

I suggest that you should re-read Simon's comment and my comment. Both include a suggestion: FSC should not certify operations that do not comply with the FSC Principles and Criteria. Is that really so controversial? By continuing to certify industrial tree plantations that do not comply with FSC's standards, FSC is facilitating the expansion of these monocultures in the global South.

My other suggestion is to campaign on reducing paper consumption - thus reducing the demand for the products from industrial tree plantations. As a start, you could go along to the website www.shrinkpaper.org and sign on to the pledge to use less paper.

cheers, Chris


I acknowledged that ‘Plantations aren’t Forests’ but they do have an important role to play, and FSC trademark must be used for plantation sourced timber.

My first reason for saying this is there are examples of industrial plantations developing into something better.

It is acknowledged that the UK was an impoverished country in forestry terms at the beginning of the last century. The state forest organisation was set up to raise the country’s tree cover from below 10%. This was done by exotic conifer planting; Sitka spruce being the main species of choice (along with other exotic conifers), and these were often planted in monocultures. Since then those pioneer species have improved the land, provided the basis for enhanced bio-diversity and produced a valuable raw material.

However many pejorative comments were made (and still are), and actions taken to protest at the effect these had on landscape etc; the protesters were not entirely ignored. Since these pioneer crops have started to be felled and replanted, much more thought has gone into replanting with more diverse species, leaving more open ground - all with the aim of making these plantations more ‘Natural’. The P&C’s of the FSC as interpreted by the UK Woodland Assurance Standard have proved a useful perhaps even essential tool in achieving this. There are some parts of the UK with plantations which are quite spectacularly beautiful - and productive. Take Perthshire for example.

Therefore it is self evident - to me and many others anyway - that these plantations and their produce should be certified.

Second reason:

The 10th principle as a statement of aspiration is fine as it stands - if people manage plantations within the spirit of that principle - as they do so often. I believe that only by intensive management of plantations over generations can the 6 billion plus on the planet acquire their forest products, and as the crops follow each other biodiversity can improve.

If this forum was multi-language which side of the argument would European foresters fall? For centuries their woodlands have been intensively managed, and are neither natural forests nor plantations; yet few would point to their silvicultural practice as anything other than excellent.

However those motivated by cupidity and stupidity are endemic; rules will always be stretched to breaking point and beyond. The raison d'être of the legal profession is to exploit unintentional loopholes (Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical there). Abuses of the 10th principle will always exist and the FSC must police it properly, so that people as vocal as some on this website do not feel as cynical and impotent as they so evidently do.

To say that 'All plantations are bad and none should be certified' strikes me as somewhat shallow. Surely that is not what you mean?

Perhaps the time is coming when forest owners apply direct to the FSC for certification? And the certificate is awarded by the FSC?




And the website is actually advocating the use of cotton???

You need to educate yourself as to how cotton is grown, the child labour that is used and what pesticides are involved and you might think twice about cotton.

This is not a ploy to divert us from the issues you are discussing, but do yourself and WRM a favour and look into this. Timber looks like an angel


Dear Peter,

No, I'm not advocating the use of cotton. Neither is FSC-watch. I know that the impacts of cotton production are appalling. Thanks, anyway, for reminding us all. FSC-watch exists to discuss the problems with FSC certification. There are lots of other terrible things in the world. By focussing on FSC we are not advocating any of them.

cheers, Chris

Dear Mark,

Thanks for your comments. The plantations in the UK were certified after the improvements were made. I agree that the discussion around FSC (and certification itself) may have played a role in improving the management of forests and plantations in the UK. However, as you point out, there had been plenty of criticism of the plantations before FSC started up. The situation in Ireland where monocultures of sitka spruce have been FSC certified for many years is very different. FSC certification has not improved the situation in Ireland at all.

The banner reads "FSC stop certifying monoculture tree plantations". It's a protest against the massive areas of industrial tree plantations that FSC has certified, in Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay, for example.

I think we agree that the certifying bodies are part of the problem. Rainforest Foundation UK produced a report in 2002 ("Trading in Credibility") which made recommendations about how FSC might address this problem.

cheers, Chris

To All the people believe FSC is a good system

I want to ask the people who want to let remain in the fraud and sandy System of FSC……

a) Do You think its worth to collaborate with a system which put into practice, that genetic same „Material“ planted over 100.000 of hektars can be „wellmanaged“ „Sustainable“and other likely words?

b) Do You think its worth to communicate with a system, who give in all the Years not one answer to define what means sustainable (not for the companies money I mean), in ecosystematic thougt, i mean?

c) Do You think that a System, who let to use millions of Hektars old grow forests in Siberia, Canada and Alaska for logging and clearcut, at least completely destroying the ecosystem, which fullfill in the end the globus with terratons of Methan, is discussable as a system to help to survive of the human race and our forests? (The planet itself will survive, no problem, but I am more and more sure- without us in the nearer furture). Only to give companies like IKEA a green label….?

d) Do You think, that a system, in which the priority of the money, (the woodmafia) ( I am a part of it!)and not the Biodiversity or the habitat of Primary forests is the highest currency is worth to be discussed any longer???

I ask You: What You want, to be the slave of a fraud system?

IN which world we live, are we all a part of the huge Woodmafia?. Can somebody really ask, if their is a better system like FSC? I can only say, as a company who deals with (middleeuropean)garantied not certificated wood and so as a part of the system i try to damage): Yes their is a system better then FSC (and beside PEFC/MTCC and all this fraud certicitactionsystem in the contrail: No FSC: Then the consumer can not be lied from a greenlabel, where is nothing green inside. The Woodmafia laught about this stupid people, I here it every day; the Woodmafia have what they want, more then all they ever dream about. Now they have the NGOs (like Greenpeace and WWF) in the clamp, The NGOs cannot go out ( and didn`t see any reason to do till now?) of the system without loosing their face completely. The pressure from the woodmafia to the system gets stronger and stronger. They make more and more what they want, nobody can controll them in near future. The neoliberal Thema in the Globalisation of wood is strong fixed on the FSC too. (When their is not existing a global system like FSC, noone will buy Tropical timber or either boreal wood. Now the international NGOs say: „OH, no Problem to make wellmananged, green, sustainable, ecological based Clearcut; the end consumer believe it. (They didn't see, that they have 15 Year before the opposite side of the meaning….) This is unfortunately the truth…..

So You mean, its better to take a GMO Eukalyptus globuli from Brasilia, FSC certificated on the floor then an middleeuropean, non certificated Oak, grow 200 km far away??.
Hm. Something is very wrong.

Give little money to me and i belive in my donator. I will close my eyes…….
Since the beginning of FSC i get angry about the system, the system cannot work, the system have system immanent „mistakes“. The enemy of the forest must protect the forest from himself. This cannot be carried out in a discussion, this must be carried out in destroying the system itself.
On the end, sorry about my English and sorry about my aggressive style, but i get angry when I see, that WWF/ GP and all (not all, I am happy!) the other NGOs falling into the trap of the Woodmafia with open eyes…..


Your WRM Bulletin 131 was probably the most informative out of the whole lot you've done, especially on the paper bit.
Actually quite constructive with your normal dig at plantations to which we have become accustomed.

The book by Mandy Haggith, is it ready to purchase on Amazon.com and what paper was it printed on?

By Mandy Haggith, hag@worldforests.org Her book Paper Trails: from trees to trash, the true cost of paper, will be published by Virgin Books on 3 July 2008.



Dear Peter,

If you visit www.amazon.com and search for "Mandy Haggith", you'll see the following message for the "Paper Trails" book: "Sign up to be notified when this item becomes available." This is presumably because the book is to be launched on 3 July 2008 (in two days' time).

I have no idea what sort of paper it was printed on, as I was not involved at any stage of the book's production. I'd suggest contacting either Mandy or Virgin Books.

cheers, Chris

Stewardship of the land,the forests, the water,and the air is a multigenerational commitment, and, looking at the track-record of multinational financial interest-groups, like multinational companies, financial institutions, big unions and big governments, should shurely not be left to said groups to have ultimate control over those vital resources. Neither should it be left without close scruteny in the hands of the science- community, who is more and more becoming a community of scientific whores for hire.
We the people, have to, with help of common sence and practical experince, get informed, and clean our own act first and foremost.
We have to many talkers and not enough doers. I find it ironic, that most of the strategies to turn the environmental ship around are being hacked out by urbanites, either living in cities, or having moved into rural areas, playing environment like kids in a sandbox, automatically assuming, that by moving into the country -side, suddenly to be environmentally friendly, while at the same time running the road back and forth from and to the city, maintaining fancy estates, a lifestile that wasts more precious resources than I a farmer and woodlotowner use up in making a living and looking after the land and the forest.
Before some of you cityfolks take it up on yourself to make any environmental decisions, loose the chip of your shoulders first, clean up your act first, the massive pollution of water (sewage), air (smokestacks, vehicles, heating) and soil, and last but not least GREED, the shameles exploitation of the people who supply you with the harvests of the land and the water, the primary producers. Many are being forced into unstustainable practices against better knowledge and against their moral standards concerning the stewardship of the resource, just to stay alive. You dont have to look to thirdworld contries to encounter this situation. It is right under your nose. There are none so blind, than those who dont want to see.
Plantations, unless used for remediation of barren ground or desert (petroleum forest) is financially a loosing proposition, which has been subscibed to here in New Brunswick, Canada, now for many years by successive governments, very much liked by the benefactors of this policy, mostly big multinational corporations, at the forefront the Irwing EMPIRE.




In France, they support a company whose goal is the massive planting of eucalyptus in a traditional area of beech and oak grove

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