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Published September 20, 2007 02:12 PM

'Forest Stewardship Council' Certification Under Fire

The wood-pulp producing company Veracel has applied for FSC certification of its tree plantations in the Brazilian state of Bahia and the evaluation process is being carried out by the international certification firm SGS (Société Générale de Surveillance). Veracel, a joint venture between Swedish-Finnish Stora Enso and Norwegian-Brazilian Aracruz Cellulose exports almost all the pulp produced in Brazil to overseas markets, where it is converted into paper.

A large number of Brazilian and international organizations are opposing this certification, on the grounds that these plantations have resulted in widespread negative social and environmental impacts -including occupation of indigenous and local communities' lands, rural migration, unemployment, water depletion and pollution, ecosystem destruction, biodiversity loss- which clearly make them uncertifiable. Those and other impacts have been well documented  and both the certifying body and the FSC Board have been made aware of the situation.

Much of Veracel's pulp ends up as paper produced and consumed in Europe, where many concerned citizens wish to know if the paper they consume is produced in a socially beneficial and environmentally appropriate manner. This is what the FSC system is supposed to provide them with.

"The German consumers expect the FSC-certifiers to endorse sustainable forest operations, not thousands of hectares of Eucalyptus monocultures sprayed with agrochemicals like in the case of Veracel", emphasizes Peter Gerhardt, from the German organization Robin Wood.

The FSC has been going through a two-year review of its plantations policy as a response to widespread criticism about the issuance of FSC certificates to large-scale monoculture plantations. The Board of Directors adopted the final report of the FSC plantation policy review in February 2007. The policy review recommends that FSC invest more in preventing things going wrong, rather than trying to 'undo' damage once it has been done. Continuing the certification assessment despite the significant shortcomings already documented by local communities affected by Veracel's plantations will be in clear violation of these plantation policy review recommendations.

Jutta Kill, from FERN, stresses that "Whilst the FSC plantations review is still ongoing, it is incomprehensible that an accredited FSC certifier would be willing to jeopardize the trust many FSC Environmental Chamber members have put into this process by considering the certification of one of the most controversial plantations operations in the world."

The Timberwatch Coalition has for many years been campaigning against socially and ecologically destructive fast wood plantations in South Africa, many of which now have the FSC label. Wally Menne, a Timberwatch representative says "It is shocking that SGS seems to have learned nothing from the controversy FSC certification of fast wood plantations has created."

Ricardo Carrere, international coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement says that "Veracel must clearly not receive FSC certification, but at the same time it is essential that the FSC cease to certify fast wood plantations and that it begins to de-certify a large number of plantations that should have never received the FSC label."

The NGOs involved in this process stress that "Certifying Veracel would be yet another disaster for FSC."

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