Third-party Certification: Protecting Indigenous Rights and Forests

Increasingly, companies that depend on forests for their products are recognizing the need to establish environmentally and socially sensitive forest management practices. With government agencies and large corporations demanding paper products that have been certified by a third-party organization, companies have seen that certification generates returns on investments.

According to Kim Carstensen of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), speaking to the New York Times, an estimated 10-12% of the world’s commercial forests are now certified and in the past five years, the number of companies with FSC certification has grown to 25,000. Tetra Pak, the multi-billion dollar container manufacturer, relies on paper from an estimated 2.5 million acres of harvested forest every year. Tetra Pak will not use wood that has been cut illegally or wood from places where there are violent disputes with indigenous people over the ownership of forest resources. Like the International Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests, FSC principles include recognition of tenure and use rights and responsibilities and indigenous peoples’ rights.

However, according to Greenpeace, with increased growth and demand for FSC certification, it “has not been successful in applying its system and standards consistently.” Greenpeace and other advocacy organizations allege abuses and conflicts involving FSC-certified companies in the Congo Basin, Indonesia, and Brazil and argue that FSC certification alone is not sufficient to stop unsustainable logging of intact and high conservation value forests.

FSC is actively trying to address weaknesses in its certification system and strengthen its oversight of certified companies. Both consumer expectations of companies’ practices and sustainable operations are putting pressure on less responsible operators. In March 2013, Greenpeace released a four-point action plan, which states, “While FSC faces challenges, we believe that it contains a framework, as well as principles and criteria, that can guarantee socially and ecologically responsible practices if implemented correctly.”

Certification of socially and environmentally sustainable forest management practices also reflects the goal of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020. TFA2020 is a nascent public-private partnership supported by the U.S. Government to promote voluntary efforts to reduce tropical deforestation caused by commodities production, including pulp and paper.