In fact, the Dvinsky Forest region is an example for effective stakeholder engagement processes that have resulted in strong and lasting solutions for threatened forest species and ecosystems. This region has further seen strong disciplinary actions from certification bodies over the past two years against forest companies referred to in the report, proving that effective control measures are in place to protect the integrity of FSC certification and justifying the continued trust stakeholders have in the FSC label.
In the Archangelsk region alone, where Dvinsky Forest is located, some 700,000 hectares of intact forest landscapes and forest areas with high conservation values are set aside due to FSC certification processes. Altogether, a total of 1.5 million hectares are recognized as intact forest landscapes under FSC certification in Russia and exempt from logging activities. The identification and protection of intact forest landscapes only happened due to consultations required by the Russian FSC standard, and the process involved key stakeholders such as environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace. It is fair to say that without FSC certification or under less rigorous certification schemes these forests might have been logged already. Contrary to what Greenpeace states in their report, FSC certification is currently the only effective instrument to protect intact forest landscapes in managed forests in Russia.
FSC accredited certification bodies have taken action against those forest companies who have failed to follow FSC standards or did not respect agreements reached with stakeholders on forest protection measures. Three of the five forest management certificates referred to in the Greenpeace article were suspended between December 2013 and February 2014 because they did not comply with FSC requirements; a fourth one had already expired earlier and was not renewed. These certificates are therefore not valid examples of FSC’s activities in Russia. It should also be noted that the Russian FSC Standard has become more rigorous in 2012, shortly after some of the certificates had been issued, so that current FSC certificates must meet higher requirements than only a few years back. Most of the satellite imagery data shown by Greenpeace covers periods before the more rigorous standard was passed, and in a number of cases even before the areas in question were FSC certified.
FSC is further seeking to strengthen the quality of FSC certification on the ground: in 2013, FSC International and FSC Russia together with Accreditation Services International (ASI) established the Russia Integrity Project to comprehensively address underlying root causes of standard violations by forest operation observed and reported by stakeholders. The ongoing project aims at a comprehensive review of FSC certificates based on a newly established regional presence of ASI, increased capacity of the Russian Standard Development Group to provide standard interpretations on key certification requirements, and a strengthened dispute resolution system operated by certification bodies.
As an example, FSC Russia now works closely with ASI to identify and analyze critical areas of non-compliance both at certificate holder and certification body level which are assessed by ASI in a new type of conformity audits, so-called compliance assessments. All of the six forest management certificates visited by ASI in 2013 that included areas in intact forest landscapes were subsequently suspended by the certification body in charge, and three of them still have not been reinstated. While this shows that there are indeed improvements necessary, it also demonstrates that through the implementation of relevant corrective action FSC does make a difference on the ground.
In another initiative, FSC Russia and ASI, in cooperation with WWF and other NGOs, are planning to establish a monitoring system for all intact forest landscapes in concessions of FSC certified companies in Russia from 2015 onwards. The system will allow immediate follow up and correction of any relevant findings by certification bodies and certificate holders.
The determination of appropriate harvesting levels is likewise looked into by FSC Russia. The Russian Standard Development Group in cooperation with NGOs and businesses has recently prepared guidance for the determination of Annual Allowable Cuts, which is now under testing in one large FSC certified company in North West Russia. Annual allowable cuts in Russia are usually stipulated through mandatory regulations, so that changing existing practices through the voluntary instrument of FSC certification constitutes a huge task – it requires the concerted effort of all stakeholders, including Greenpeace, to work towards truly sustainable harvesting rates throughout Russian forests.
FSC highly appreciates constructive criticism about its policies, standards and relevant implementation challenges from groups such as Greenpeace. Relevant concerns are taken seriously, and are usually shared concerns by FSC and other stakeholders. “We encourage Greenpeace Russia to participate in developing practical solutions for intact forest landscapes in Russia, both at the local level as well as through engagement in relevant standard setting processes”, said Andrei Ptichnikov, Director of FSC Russia. “The more Greenpeace Russia is engaged in relevant activities, the more intact forest landscapes in Russia can be effectively protected.”
Greenpeace is an active member of FSC.
Additional information may be found in a statement issued by NEPCon, affiliated partner of the Rainforest Alliance, on the same report: http://www.nepcon.net/complaints-and-resolutions
Karen Bennett Van der Westhuizen