The scandal of Asia Plywood Company in Sarawak, Wickes, B&Q, SCS and FSCTags: Malaysia, Chain of Custody, Mixed sources labelling, Misleading claims, SCS
B&Q and Wickes, two of Britain's biggest DIY stores, have been caught selling plywood falsely labelled as FSC certified.
The company selling the plywood, Asia Plywood Company, is the largest exporter of Meranti wood and plywood in Malaysia. The website Sarawak Report explains that Asia Plywood Company got its FSC certificate not for the timber it logs in Sarawak, but "by pledging that at least 70% of the content of its finished plywood was now being sourced from New Zealand plantation pine."
In fact, the plywood on sale in the UK was "almost completely made up of tropical hardwood, such as meranti wood," Sarawak Report notes.
Asia Plywood Company did have an FSC chain of custody certification, from 21 February 2006 to 20 February 2011, as this screenshot from SCS’s Certified Client List dated April 2010 shows (click on the image for a larger version):
But when the chain of custody certification expired, it seems that Asia Plywood Company just carried on exporting plywood stamped with the FSC label. B&Q continued selling the falsely labelled plywood until a story about the scandal appeared in the Daily Mail. Wickes just carried on selling the falsely labelled plywood.
On 7 January 2012, FSC's certifying body, SCS, put out a statement that concluded:
"Our investigation found that the FSC products sold by Asia Plywood between February 25th, 2011 and present are not FSC certified and should not carry the FSC label or any marks that indicate that the material is certified.
"We have requested that Asia Plywood remove the FSC label from any products that they have in stock and that Asia Plywood request the same of the customers to whom they sold these products."
On 27 January 2012, two days before the article in the Daily Mail, FSC put out a statement explaining that,
"FSC is aware of a problem relating to Asia Plywood’s supply of FSC labeled products to Kingfisher and is investigating the matter further.
"We are engaging all relevant parties, including certification body SCS, to ensure that a full understanding about the facts of this case is established. Further, we are performing an internal assessment of our standards and database systems and, if appropriate, will implement changes to ensure that this situation is prevented in the future."
A spokesperson for B&Q (which is part of the Kingfisher group) told the trade journal DIYWeek that,
"We were alerted to a potential supplier accreditation issue regarding plywood on December 7 2011, and immediately took action. We had sourced a small amount of product from this supplier from October 2011 and as soon as we were made aware, all future shipments of this plywood were immediately cancelled.
"We sought and received written assurances from FSC ... as recently as January 13th that B&Q's current stock is FSC certified, which remained valid until potential further information came to light on Friday, January 27.
"As a result we launched a further investigation and, while this is underway, we have taken the decision to remove any existing stock of this plywood from our shelves from Friday, January 27. We have done this because we are proud of our heritage in this area and are committed to ensuring that our customers can be assured there is no doubt whatsoever about our supply chain."
A spokesperson for Wickes told DIYWeek:
"[We] have not purchased any product from Asia Plywood since we were made aware of the withdrawal of its FSC certification on December 15 2011, at which time we re-sourced to an alternative supplier. We believe that the right course of action and best for the environment is to sell through the remaining product rather than scrap it and manufacture and ship more to replace it.
"All of us in the timber supply chain have a responsibility to work in a collaborative way to ensure that, if things do go wrong, information is shared quickly and accurately so that the standard remains an effective assurance of best practice."
As of 3 February 2012, Wickes was still selling plywood from Asia Plywood Company labelled as FSC certified. B&Q has stopped, but only about 8 weeks after being alerted to the problem. FSC is carrying out an internal assessment (which will probably never see the light of day).
SCS meanwhile requested Asia Plywood Company to remove the labels from plywood in stock. Then they asked Asia Plywood to get in touch with their customers and ask them to remove the labels. SCS does not mention any deadline for doing this, nor does it explain what will happen if the company fails to comply with either of these two requests.
The plywood was sold with the label "FSC Mix". Here's how FSC explains its FSC Mix label:
The wood used to produce FSC certified products with a “Mixed Sources” label comes from FSC certified well-managed forests, controlled sources and/or recycled material.
FSC's website explains that there are two ways of meeting the requirements for the FSC Mix label, as follows:
The proportion of FSC certified and recycled material used in the production must be at least 70% to qualify for the FSC “Mixed Sources” label.
This means that if a manufacturer produces 100 chairs and has FSC certified and recycled material for 70 chairs, then all the chairs can carry the FSC “Mixed Sources” label.
If a manufacturer uses less than 70% but more than 10% of FSC certified and recycled material, they are allowed to label a proportion of the production which is equivalent to the proportion of FSC certified and recycled input used in the production. For example, if a manufacturer produces 100 chairs, but only has FSC certified and recycled material for 30 chairs, then only 30 chairs can carry the FSC “Mixed Sources” label.
FSC must now investigate how big the Asia Plywood Company scandal really is. At the very least, FSC must answer the following questions:
How long did Asia Plywood Company sell plywood falsely labelled as FSC certified? How many tonnes of timber were involved?
Is it possible to trace the percentage of plywood that Asia Plywood Company sold - without relying on the company's documents which may also have been forged?
Given the climate of corruption and illegality surrounding the logging industry in Sarawak, can we really be sure that plywood sold with the FSC label was even legally harvested?
On its website, FSC boasts 22,280 chain of custody certificates. How many other cases of timber falsely labelled as FSC certified are on the market?
The problem is, none of the actors involved have any interest in carrying out the necessary research (that's assuming they can carry out the research). B&Q, Wickes, SCS, Asia Plywood Company and the FSC Secretariat all have a vested interest in keeping quiet and hoping that the problem will go away. While the media interest may fade, the problem won't.