- Reflecting on the General Assembly in Vancouver, held earlier this month, has me questioning whether FSC is going to stay fit for purpose for this century, or whether it is going to be held back by misguided economic self-interest.
- The idea is that members of the three FSC chambers – social, environmental, and economic – come together to shape the future of the certification system by discussing and voting on motions that fundamentally affect the way FSC is run. But is that really still the case?
- For the first time in the eight FSC general assemblies I’ve attended over the past 20+ years, I wondered whether this is a network with a shared vision that is innovative, adaptive, and progressive.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Held every three years, the General Assembly (GA) is supposed to be the top Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) platform for decision-making. The idea is that members of the three FSC chambers — social, environmental, and economic — come together to shape the future of the certification system by discussing and voting on motions that fundamentally affect the way FSC is run. But is that really still the case?
Reflecting on the recent General Assembly in Vancouver, held earlier this month, has me questioning whether FSC is going to stay fit for purpose for this century, or whether it is going to be held back by misguided economic self-interest.
Thankfully, there were some positives, where the FSC family did what it does best at General Assemblies — listened to each other and, with cross-chamber collaboration, negotiated motions that have broad support (you can read about all motions that passed here).
For example, the smallholder/community ‘super motion,’ which combined a whole set of motions, had unanimous support and will provide further impetus for continued progress toward addressing this uncomfortable weakness in the FSC system. A negotiated neutral motion on ‘controlled wood’ (wood mixed into FSC products but not fully certified) passed, urging implementation of the current standard that requires, in particular, Free, Prior, & Informed Consent of indigenous peoples and protection of High Conservation Value landscapes. Motion 7 on continuing to address what restoration and restitution a company that has breached the 1994 conversion cut-off rule would have to do to get certified stumbled but then was passed. There was good support for a review of certification assessment integrity — long overdue.
And the general assembly did not go backwards on its previous support for protecting Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL) under Motion 65, which was agreed during the GA in 2014. There was also good collaboration on a few motions to help with Motion 65 implementation, even if only one passed.
However, for the first time in the eight GAs I’ve attended over the past 20+ years, I wondered whether this is a network with a shared vision that is innovative, adaptive, and progressive.
Following the disastrous 1996 GA, we figured out how to do cross-chamber negotiations to get broad support of motions on key issues at the next assembly in 1999 – this was a eureka moment for the FSC. But at the Vancouver GA, the development of block voting by the economic chamber to kill motions — the flourish of red (no) cards now known as the ‘red sea’ — was extremely concerning, particularly as high priority issues for the social and environment chambers were voted against without explanation, justification, or prior engagement in the cross-chamber motion preparation process. For me this is a turning point. This is not how we do things at GAs.
Tactical opposition for anti-competitive reasons also reared its ugly head this GA around the forest conversion/restoration issue. Pulp & paper companies that are already FSC certified want to prevent their competitors from receiving the stamp of approval that FSC certification represents. This behavior by many in the economic chamber runs totally against the collaboration and spirit of an FSC GA, reinforced by the social chamber at one point doing a ‘yellow card’ (point of order) protest against it.
What do we make of an economic chamber that does not support basic transparency of maps of FSC certified areas, including companies such as International Paper, when this is the global norm? Consumers have the right to know where the products they buy are coming from. The RSPO, generally viewed as weaker than the FSC, already has this as a requirement.
There was also strong economic opposition to perfectly reasonable motions on good animal welfare and the development of the Indigenous Cultural Landscapes concept. A motion supporting social requirements in the Chain of Custody standard — a hot issue facing commodity supply chains — was voted down. But probably the most disappointing development was the rejection by the economic chamber of a motion on FSC developing a strategy on restoration — such an obvious development that FSC is actually already doing it. Forest restoration is essential if we are to de-carbonize the atmosphere and survive on planet Earth.
All I can read from this is a vote for no change, for FSC to not progress or innovate, and for FSC’s requirements and standards to not be added to or strengthened — as much as anything to keep costs down rather than have progressive social and environmental standards. But with already waning environment chamber support for FSC, and many in the social chamber asking questions, will the trends in this GA push more stakeholders away from continuing to engage and support FSC? I think so, and with the retrograde moves of the Vancouver GA I fear FSC will continue to lose relevance and influence.
I hope I’m wrong, and the economic sector can reflect on the delicate balance of interests in FSC where no one chamber should dominate, and also on whether they want FSC as a brand that is values-driven and continues to keep pace with society’s expectations around people and planet, as well as profit.
Grant Rosoman is a Global Forests Solutions Senior Advisor for Greenpeace International.