Sunday, November 5, 2017

49 Forest Certification-III. Competing frameworks, country responses

In the preceding sections, we saw that the Forest Certification framework developed mainly by international NGOs in the west, resulted in the Forest Stewardship Council or FSC, which has developed a set of Principles and Criteria (P&C) for good forest management and chain-of-custody verification. We mentioned that third world national governments had reservations or suspicions about the FSC, tending to see it as yet another ploy by vested interests in developed countries to impose external controls (especially on less developed economies). Business enterprises in developed countries also were initially hostile, and tried to work out ways to avoid the hegemony of the FSC scheme. In this section we take a look at some of the responses in selected countries, and the shape of some alternative schemes for forest certification.

Forest Certification in Australia 

A detailed account of the response to certification schemes in the forestry and fishery sectors in three countries of the developed world (Australia, Canada and the UK) has been given by Gale & Haward (2011), Chapter 8 of which gives a summarized comparative analysis. In Australia, the “policy network” in the forest sector, representing the “triadic” interests of government, business and workers’ unions, was “opposed outright” to the FSC (op. cit., p.236), and was “dismissive of certification in general and the FSC in particular” (p.237). They felt that domestic environmental concerns had already been addressed by the “Regional Forestry Agreements” agreed in the latter half of the 1990s, and there did not seem to be any demand in the Asian export markets for any additional certificates of sustainability.

But when Asian markets slumped in the late 1990s following the “Asian currency crises”, Australian exporters had to turn to North American and European markets, where forest certification was already “well advanced”, so some authoritative certificate of sustainability was found essential. The network “moved quickly after 1999 to establish the AFS”, the Australian Forestry Standard, endorsed by the national Australian Standards institution in 2002. This was seen as a lower-cost and less onerous (e.g. in respect of restrictions on clear-felling) alternative to the FSC. However, by the end of the first decade of the new century, increasing awareness of the effects of unsustainable logging and its relation to biodiversity and climate change, and increasing environmentalists’ pressure, led to a higher expected standard for sustainable forestry. Progress in certification in Canada’s boreal forests increased consumers’ choice.  As a result, the FSC “began to gain ground” (p.238).

Forest Certification in Canada

In contrast to the above, Canada’s forest policy networks (government, industry, and other stakeholders) were “early adopters” of certification, reflecting the “critical role” of forestry in the economy (Gale & Haward 2011, p.173). However, industry interests perceived the FSC as a high-cost option, and so quickly moved to set up the Canadian Sustainable Forestry Certification Coalition, which funded the development of a competing standard through the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Other possible options included the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards being developed by industry interests in the USA. For domestic Canadian companies, however, a home-grown scheme was considered more suitable. Despite this, Gale & Haward find that the FSC scheme has actually done better. One reason was the fairly pragmatic approach of the FSC players, in finalizing a regional standard for Canada’s boreal forests in 2004, that provided opportunities for pushing the FSC cause. The policy environment also became more “pluralistic” with inclusion of environmentalists and First Nations (p.246) in the process of formulating the FSC-BC Standard for British Columbia, which required logging companies to obtain FSC certification. The increasing preference for the FSC scheme was partly because the highly environment-conscious public came to have low confidence in the industry-backed certification schemes (p.247). Interestingly, at one stage (in 2001) the new executive director of FSC, Maharaj Muthoo, had signed an MoU to certify all Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources lands to the FSC standard, but this was unacceptable to the rest of the FSC organisation, and Muthoo was forced to resign (Gale & Haward, p.190). Nevertheless, New Brunswick state decided to make certification mandatory for major licensees in 2002, and Ontario in 2004. All this led to a jump in FSC certified area, from just 1 mha in 2004, to over 32 mha by end-2009, or “about 22 per cent of the total certified area of almost 150 million hectares” (p.191).

Forest Certification in the UK

In contrast to the neutral or competitive stance of government to forest certification in general (and FSC in particular) in the initial years in Australia and Canada, “the UK government played a major role in supporting FSC certification” through its main state agency, the Forestry Commission (Gale & Haward, p.222).  This mutual cooperation between state and FSC happened only after a period of intense debate and initial opposition within the “forest policy network”. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Forestry Commission had made gradual accommodation to “recreational, environmental and amenity interests”, and officially adopted the principle of ‘multiple purpose’ forestry (Gale & Haward, p.240). Despite this, the “network remained closed to external groups” and “strongly focused on protecting the rights of landowners, the interests of tree growers and the structure of the UK forest industry” (what is termed a “clientilistic” approach, p.249). Organizations representing those interests campaigned against the FSC, as impinging on private rights and imposing unacceptably high costs, and the Forestry Commission (which shared the dominant sustained-yield aggressive plantation-forestry paradigm) generally “sided with them” and sought some means for “sidestepping” FSC requirements (p.212, 252). The FSC in turn worked to develop an “exclusively non-state initiative” for a business-environmental partnership from outside. Two competing standards were thus under development during the 1990s: an FSC-Great Britain standard with the support of large NGOs like WWF-UK and FoE-UK (Friends of the Earth), and a state-sponsored UK Forestry Standard spearheaded by the Forestry Commission. The animosity between the FSC-led NGO campaign and the industry players was so high that the head of the Timber Growers’ Association (TGA) was moved to compare a WWF-organized meeting to discuss FSC certification to a ‘Nazi rally’, as repeatedly quoted by Gale & Haward in their book (2011, p.253).

What then led to a change of heart in the Forestry Commission toward FSC and third-party certification? The Forestry Commission started rethinking its forest management paradigm in the 1980s, and moved to “embrace multiple-purpose forestry”, which “called into question the absolutist notion of private property rights” (p.212). A “multi-departmental cost-benefit study” called into question the “domestic defence” rationale for the nation’s forest policy. Timber growers’ associations attempted to forestall pressure from public opinion by developing their own standards, such as the Forestry and Woodland Code for harmonizing the interests of industry and nature. WWF-UK, one of the main protagonists of certification, chose a pragmatic path of cooperation with the government and industry (with the Forestry Commission acting as a facilitator). These negotiations resulted in the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS) in 1997-8, which simultaneously meets international FSC Principles & Criteria for sustainable forest management. Following this, many industry members started endorsing third-party certification, “especially with respect to its role in controlling illegal timber imports” (p.213). There was “an immediate and dramatic shift in the UK forest network towards the FSC” as the UKWAS was experienced as an acceptable pathway to obtaining the FSC certification, which was seen as a “Gold Standard” in the market (p.255). Most certification of forests in the UK so far is stated to be under the FSC-UKWAS  umbrella.

Pan-European Forest Certification (PEFC)

In contrast to the UK response endorsing the FSC, another major competing scheme was launched in 1999 by forest owners in six European countries (Austria, France, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden), initially called the Pan-European Forest Certification (PEFC). Humphreys (2006, p.127) calls this a “World War!”, which reminds one of the “Nazi rally” accusation against FSC in the UK. The creation of the PEFC “was principally a forest owner reaction against the FSC” (Humphreys, p.127), and in part a response to the “European Commission’s reluctance to intervene in favour of European forest owners”. The distinction of the PEFC is that it is a “mutual recognition framework through which national certification schemes can recognize each other as having equivalent standards” (Humphreys, p.127, emphasis added), rather than a single set of criteria in itself. In 2003, it was relaunched as the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification scheme.  PEFC uses nationally or regionally agreed sets of criteria and indicators (C&I) as basis for national-level standard setting. In Europe, PEFC uses the C&I adopted by the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) and its Operational Level guidelines. Humphreys does point out the different philosophies behind C&I frameworks (for SFM) and Forest Certification, but as we have discussed above, there is bound to be conflation of the two in most real world contexts, so perhaps too much need not be made of this issue. PEFC went ahead with recognizing and endorsing national-level (government-led) standards, in Australia, Chile, Brazil, Canada (Canadian Standards Association CSA), USA (US Sustainable Forestry Initiative SFI), and so on. By 2005, PEFC had certified (through these national schemes) by far the greater area, amounting to some 186 mha in 19 countries, as against some 68 mha in 66 countries by FSC. However some highly environment-conscious companies have opted for FSC certification (Humphreys, p.129).

Forest Certification in Malaysia

In the mid-1990s, campaigns by western NGOs against unsustainably haervested tropical timbers started biting into Malaysia’s exports (the primary source of the information presented here comes from the Malaysian Timber Certification Council’s publication The First Ten Years, MTCC 2009). Despite the international NGOs’ preference for a particular forest certification scheme throughout the world (p. 10; this refers presumably to the FSC), the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB) was given the task of developing a separate national scheme for Malaysia, following a multi-stakeholder seminar in April 1994. A “Pro Tem Committee on Timber Certification” (CTC) was set up and started functioning by early 1995 (including the WWF-Malaysia and Malaysian Nature Society), which then followed a phased approach to developing the certification system. The CTC recognized that international acceptance was already there for FMU (Forest Management Unit) level certification under existing systems like the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), but wanted a national-level certification also for reasons of cost effectiveness.  In the meantime, the National Committee on Sustainable Forest Management (NCSFM) had been working from 1994 to elaborate the ITTO Criteria for Sustainable Tropical Forest Management, under a project supported by the Netherlands Timber Trade Association. All these initiatives were amalgamated in the National Timber Certification Council (NTCC) set up as an independent non-profit company (“limited by guarantee and not having a share capital") in late 1998. It was renamed the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) in June 2001.

Over a 3-year period accompanied by multi-stakeholder discussions, the MTCC took up development of the certification standards, field-testing of the standards and assessment procedures, training of auditors, registration of independent assessor companies, registration of peer reviewers, formulation of rules governing the use of the MTCC logo, appeals mechanism, and public comminication on this new certification system. Finalised by end-2001, and launched in January 2002, the set of 6 Criteria and 29 Indicators for forest management certification was known as MC&I (2001). WWF-M withdrew on the grounds that this set was inadequate, and   that they should stick to a more elaborate, 50 indicators set that had emanated from consultations in 1999. However, on the understanding that western markets needed a more recognized international scheme, MTCC continued working with stakeholders including FSC, resulting in the Malaysian Criteria and Indicators for Forest Management Certification dated 11 August 2004, based on the FSC P&C as a template, called MC&I (2002). There are also additional standards for plantations, MC&I (Forest Plantations), and two standards for Chain of Custody  (COC). In 2008, it was renamed the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme, MTCS. In 2009, the Malaysian scheme got endorsement from the PEFC as well.

Choosing between the forest certification schemes

The quarrel between the FSC and rival frameworks like the PEFC (or its constituent national schemes) would obviously come down to the actual standards set and to the rigour of monitoring and enforcement. In other words, the devil is in the detail. NGOs have criticised shortfalls in PEFC such as the lack of prohibition on future conversions of forest to plantations, allowing logging of old growth forests (Finland), lack of prohibition against genetically-modified (GM) trees, weak provisions on the rights of indigenous peoples (Humphreys, p.127), etc. Each of the rival schemes has tried to garner legitimacy by linking to international standards set-ups or through acceptance by governments. For example, PEFC obtained ‘associate status’ to the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), a body of national-level accreditation organizations; FSC failed to do so (Humphreys 2006, p.133). On the other hand, FSC helped set up another organization called the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL), “a group of international voluntary standard-setting, accreditation and certification organizations that aim to promote ecological sustainability and social justice and trade” (ibid.), but IAF has been unwilling to accord any recognition to it (as of Humphreys, 2006). Another framework being tried out (by WWF, for instance) is for a graded set of standards rather than a single cut-off, so that different organizations can aim at their preferred levels of performance in respect of different aspects like environmental, social, legal, and so on.

Developing countries where forest products are a significant portion of their national product or trade, often find themselves in a dilemma. On the one hand, there are the high expectations of environmental and social activists (such as the FSC’s founders) that may call for a major change from existing practices and legal-administrative frameworks. On the other hand, without certification that is responsive to such concerns and that is internationally recognized, they may lose out on market access. This choice may be especially significant for exporters of tropical timbers in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. The experience of Malaysia in dealing with forest certification, presents a good example.


Dilip Kumar, P.J. 2014. Managing India’s Forests. Village Communities, Panchayati Raj Institutions and the State. Monograph No. 32, Institute for Social & Economic Change, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore. Posted at

FRI. 2012. National  Working Plan Code. Draft prepared by Forest Research Institute Dehradun (Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education). Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. 

Gale, Fred and Marcus Howard. 2011. Global Commodity Governance. State Responses to Sustainable Forest and Fisheries Certification. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Government of India. 2014. National Working Plan Code 2014. Ministry of Environment & Forests. Downloadable copy available at

Higman, Sophie, James Mayers, Stephen Bass, Neil Judd and Ruth Nussbaum. 2006. The Sustainable Forestry Handbook. Second Edition, First South Asian Edition. The Earthscan Forestry Library. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Humphreys, David. 2006. Logjam. Deforestation and the Crisis of Global Governance. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London. 

Kotwal, P.C., M.D.Omprakash & Dharmendra Dugaya. 2008. Manual: Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in India: An Operational Framework. Operational Strategy for Sustainable Forestry Development with Community Participation in India: IIFM-ITTO Research Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).

Lele, Sharachchandra and Ajit Menon. 2014. Democratizing Forest Governance in India. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

MTCC. 2009. The First Ten Years 1999-2009. Written by Chew Lye Teng, Harninder Singh, Yong Ten Koong. Malaysian Timber Certifcation Council. Kuala Lumpur.

Upton, Christopher and Stephen Bass. 1995. The Forest Certification Handbook. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Yadav, Manmohan, P.C.Kotwal & B.L.Menaria. 2007. Forest Certification. A Tool for Sustainable Forest Management. Centre for Sustainable Forest Management & Forest Certification: IIFM-ITTO Project. Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal (India).


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