MO* Article Shakes Up FSC label

The article ‘Sustainable on paper’ that was published in September in MO* Magazine, has stirred up a hornet’s nest. In the article, Veracel’s certification by FSC was heavily criticized. Veracel is a large Brazilian paper company, and has been under continuous attack by local farmers and activists.

  • Leo Broers/An-Katrien Lecluyse Bahia, Brazil: paper company Veracel manages 96.000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations Leo Broers/An-Katrien Lecluyse

The documentary that followed caused a lot of indignation as well. Landless farmers, Indians and local NGOs reported on numerous environmental crimes and conflicts caused by Veracel. Even the Belgian FSC chairman had to admit that Veracel did not deserve the certificate. “Veracel clearly is an example of an undeserving certificate owner.”

The publication of the article resulted in a formal complaint against Veracel. Seven months have passed since then, and Veracel is still selling paper undisturbedly, up to 700.000 ton.

Alison Kriscensi of FCS is fully aware of the fact that this jeopardizes the credibility of the certificate. “You have to understand that the FSC system is complex and certain procedures take time, but we are doing all we can to get things right.”

In the end of 2010 FSC sent a team to Brazil. Oddly enough, SGS Qualifor (the company that gave Veracel the certificate) was investigated, and not Veracel. The verdict of the inspection team was harsh: “Certificator SGS cannot guarantee that Veracel complies with the FSC conditions.” SGS committed eight heavy and five light violations on FSC standards, and was suspended in Brazil for a maximum period of six months.

“The suspension implies that SGS cannot give out certificates anymore”, explains Veracel’s sustainability manager Eliane Anjos. “But SGS stays responsible for the certification of Veracel.” Which means that FSC allows an unreliable certificator to continue to follow up on an unreliable certificate.

“The whole complaints procedure is one big joke”, says Winnie Overbeek, coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement. “Right after the certification of Veracel in 2008, FSC already concluded that they didn’t deserve a certificate, but nobody took action. That SGS has been suspended is normal, what we want to know is when FSC will retract Veracel’s certificate.”

Nobody at FSC seems to know the answer to that question. For Veracel, there have been no negative consequences whatsoever. Not after a formal complaint, nor after the negative FSC report or the widespread indignation. Alison Kriscensi understands the frustrations, but calls for patience. “The rules and procedures have been set up by members of the social, ecological and economic chambers. In this three chambers system, all sectors are represented, that’s the strength of the FSC.”

Not according to Simon Counsell of FSC Watch. “The three chambers system is a myth,” he says. “FSC members lost control of their own label. The real power is in the hands of certificators like SGS, and it’s in their interest to sell as many certificates as possible.” Counsell doubts that the investigation of Veracel will show real results. “I don’t know one FSC label that was retracted because of a formal complaint.” FSC International neither confirms nor denies this.

Translation: Thijs Storme

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