FSC's mysterious disappearing certificates #2: SEFAC, CameroonTags: Cameroon, Legality, Suspended certificates, ICILA
Another of the many deeply troubling but now, at least temporarily, vanished FSC certficates exposed by FSC-Watch is that of the rainforest logging 'SEFAC group' in Cameroon. The SEFAC certificate disapeared off FSC's certified forest database sometime during 2009. Neither FSC nor SEFAC itself, nor the logger's certifier, ICILA, provided an explanation for this.
However, the certificate started running into serious trouble already in July 2008, when the FSC's 'certifier watchdog', Accreditation Services International (ASI), carried out a field inspection of the certified company. ASI found, according to their report (pdf file, 340kb) that ICILA had "issued a certificate to the company despite the fact that there was evidence that the company was not in compliance with many FSC requirements...FSC standard FSC-STD-20-001, section 19.1, requires a certification body not to issue a certificate if there are outstanding major non-compliances with the FSC Principles and Criteria".
As a result of ASI's inspection of the SEFAC certificate, ICILA was issued with five 'Corrective Action Requests'. One of these related to the finding that the certification standard against which ICILA had assessed SEFAC was not consistent with the FSC's Principles and Criteria.
By the end of January 2009, ICILA had failed to convince FSC-ASI that they had addressed all the problems in their certification system. FSC thus 'suspended' their accreditation for certifying forest management activities in Cameroon, finding that "the instances of major non conformities outline a breakdown in the implementation of ICILA's accredited procedures and create a risk for the credibility of the FSC in Cameroon". This should have meant that SEFAC's certificate was no longer valid.
FSC-ASI seems to have acted properly in this case, and it is encouraging to see that it was relatively swift in removing ICILA's accreditation. However, some worrying aspects remain. The linked Cameroonian timber company, SEBAC continues to retain its ICILA-issued Chain of Custody certificate, though it is unclear where the company could be obtaining FSC-certified timber from, if not from the now de-certified SEFAC.
More importantly, however, ASI seems to have failed to address the question of SEFAC's underlying legality. As previously noted by FSC-Watch, the company's logging operations appear to greatly exceed the legal size limit for concessions held by any one company. ASI claims to have found that the complicated shareholding structure of the company somehow circumvented this concession size restriction. However, in its report on ICILA, ASI noted that ICILA had "issued a certificate to the group SEFAC and ICILA's report refers to the group SEFAC-Cameroun. The FSC certificate database also refers to "Groupe SEFAC". However, the "groupe SEFAC" is not a legal entity. ICILA's certificate should have been issued to SEFAC AC and ICILA's report should refer to SEFAC AC as the group entity".
This was an important observation, because any such legal entity as 'Groupe SEFAC' would have fallen foul of the Cameroonian law, for holding too large a concession. However, investigations have failed to turn up any legal entity entitled 'SEFAC AC'. Furthermore, the also-linked Vasto Legno SpA, the Italian company which, according to ASI, "defines the commercial and marketing strategy of SEFAC's certified products" itself states on its website that "VASTO LEGNO is an exclusive world distributor for SEFAC GROUP [...] composed by three society [sic] SEBAC S.A., SEFAC S.A. and FILIÈRE BOIS S.A.". FSC-ASI has so far failed to answer questions to it concerning where the company 'SEFAC AC' is legally registered.
Despite these 'anomalies', SEFAC is now undergoing a process of re-certification by Bureau Veritas - which hopefully will do a better job of getting to the bottom of the legal status of 'Groupe SEFAC/SEFAC AC/SEBAF/Vasto Legno'....