In addition to compliance with all relevant national and regional legislation (as per FSC Principle 1 of the FSC Principles and Criteria), the rights of indigenous peoples are specifically prioritised in Principle 3.
It requires all FSC-certified forest owners and managers to identify and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights of land ownership, use of land, and access to resources the land may provide.
This is done through the FSC’s free, prior and informed consent process, which has clear guidelines that take into account their livelihoods and social and cultural way of living, so as to preserve it. The free, prior and informed consent must be affirmatively achieved prior to harvesting any area indigenous peoples live in.
To ensure fair and equal representation of indigenous peoples, FSC established a permanent Indigenous Peoples’ Committee in 2013, based on a motion from the 2011 FSC General Assembly (Motion 19). Acting as an advisory committee to the FSC International Board of Directors, its purpose is to serve as a permanent mechanism for engaging indigenous peoples around issues of forest management and FSC certification and ensuring that their rights are upheld.
A documentary by Arte in 2016 showed how an FSC-certified forest concession, Industrie Forestière de Ouesso employed a big team of social workers to involve indigenous peoples in free prior and informed consent to identify important or sacred trees and ensure they were not harvested. This is a direct positive impact of FSC’s requirements from its Principle 3.
The logging concession Congolaise Industrielle des Bois is also supporting Project Bwanga, a health support project in the Republic of Congo, by enabling remote Pygmy communities in the forest to access medicine.
Numerous studies have shown that there have been significant advances in the protection of indigenous peoples' rights in FSC-certified concessions located in the Republic of Congo and the region generally.
- A study by Paolo Cerruti et al.1 (2014) made an assessment focusing on the social impacts of FSC certification in the region. The research specifically examined the differences in working and living conditions, institutional and participation aspects in certified and uncertified forest management units. The authors conducted a review of the mechanisms implemented by logging companies in Cameroon, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. It was found that FSC certification leads to a significant positive change in the social conditions set by companies getting pushed towards to adopt the FSC Principles and Criteria and to communicate with the local stakeholders. The study identified different ethnic groups during interviews, including Baka and Benzele indigenous groups.
- FSC-certified concessions have also hired Baka guides – to identify high conservation values and protected trees to map them – as a way to include indigenous peoples (John Nelson, Protecting Indigenous Rights in the Republic of Congo: a review of progress, 2006).
- Robert Nasi et al. (2007) found that “if local people are guaranteed the benefits of sustainable land use and hunting practices, they will be willing to invest in sound management and negotiate selective hunting regimes". "In logging concessions surrounding Nouabalé Ndoki National Park, northern Republic of Congo, a successful collaboration has been established between the Government, an NGO (Wildlife Conservation Society), the private sector (Congolaise Industrielle des Bois), and local communities."
All these measures set a new high standard for the Congo basin forestry.