Smartwood’s Certification of the Forest Industry Organisation – Conclusion

28 Aug


By Chris Lang. Published by WRM, August 2003.

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FIO and its supporters argue that Thailand needs large areas of tree plantations because the country currently imports timber at great expense. For example, in a proposal to Sweden’s Sida for additional funding for the Organisational Development project (see The Background to the Certification, above), FIO wrote:

    “Thailand has to import wood and wood products many billions US$ annually; as though cease for logging from own forests, while promoting logging from other country’s forests. Imported wood is very expensive that people in rural areas can not afford; thus causing illegal felling logs from depleting natural forests” (FIO 1996: 3).

FIO’s Chittiwat Silapat expanded on this argument in August 2002,

    “When you look at the effect of the logging ban it cost Thailand a lot of money for imported wood and wood products, roughly more than 40,000 million baht. A very huge amount of money. The reason is very simple. We are more and more populated. People need material to build a house so demand is increasing. People who live in the rural areas must pay a higher price for the wood they use for building material than people in the cities because of high transport costs. Even for cement and bricks, they have to pay a high price. They cannot afford it so they go straight to the forest. This is what is happening now. So the logging ban is not the only answer. The demand is still there” (Chittiwat 2002).

However, the reality is that one of the main benefits of the certification of its plantations is that it helps FIO to sell its timber in Europe. When FIO received the certification, FIO’s deputy managing director, Winai Subrungruang told the Bangkok Post that the certification would increase acceptance of the FIO’s products in the world market (Phusadee 2001).

Writing in 2001, Tomas Jonsson, SCC Natura’s consultant, writing in the FIO project Final Report, was candid about the benefits that certification would bring to FIO:

    “The FSC related efforts [towards certification] are partly done as a means to improve the attractiveness of FIO’s products since a successful FSC certification will permit eco-labeling of the timber. And this in turn is a marketing advantage since sought after Thai products, like certified wooden furniture, are in much demand as compared to non-certified products” (SCC Natura 2001: 15).[21]

In Thailand, however, while there is undoubtedly demand for timber, there is no demand for certified timber. When asked why FIO needs certification, FIO’s Chittiwat Silapat replied it was the policy of FIO’s new Managing Director, Chanatt Laohawatana. He said “at the moment the image of FIO is getting better and better, because of what we are doing. So it’s my belief that this is one of the ways to improve our image.” However, he admitted that “There’s no real market for FSC wood in Thailand” and that in the future the timber could be sold internationally. He added, although “there are some buyers from abroad asking for certified logs, I always say to them there is not enough to supply our domestic market” (Chittiwat 2002).

Chittiwat is being somewhat economical with the truth here. In August 2000, he told the Bangkok Post, “As the first country in the region with FSC certification, Thailand will have a valuable edge in the area of timber exports . . . As the first country in the region with FSC certification, Thailand will have a valuable edge in the area of timber exports” (Uamdao 2000). Within a month of the certificate being awarded, Chittiwat said that five companies have signed contracts to buy timber from the FIO (Phusadee 2001). A display board outside one of FIO’s plantation areas in Thong Pha Phum announces that the plantation has been certified under Forest Stewardship Council system and that with this label, FIO can export its timber internationally.

A company called “Fioline” sells garden furniture in Europe which is manufactured from timber from FIO plantations.[22] Fioline advertises picnic tables, benches and chairs and claims that “All our teak comes from sustainable teak plantations in the north of Thailand” (Fioline no date). This statement is highly questionable, particularly since in May 2002, SmartWood found that five of FIO’s plantations in the north of Thailand did not meet the standards required for FSC certification.

In this context, certification becomes little more than a marketing tool, enabling FIO’s timber to reach new markets, particularly in Europe.

A plantation is not a forest

Within Thailand, the certification provides FIO with a legitimation of its plantation management. FIO’s offices now display SmartWood signs, which announce FIO’s new status as sustainable “forest” managers: “Certified Forest. This forest is certified as well-managed by SmartWood in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council.”

SmartWood deliberately confuses plantations and forests. Since FSC Principles and Criteria currently allow, or even encourage this confusion, perhaps this is not surprising. However, it is clearly to FIO’s advantage that this confusion continues. It allows the organisation to claim that its monoculture teak plantations are “reforestation”, even when they are repeatedly logged and replanted.

According to the introduction to FSC’s Principles and Criteria, “The goal of FSC is to promote environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests, by establishing a worldwide standard of recognized and respected Principles of Forest Stewardship” (FSC 2000: 1).

This statement alone should exclude industrial plantations from the FSC system, since plantations are not forests and do not contribute to the viable management of the world’s forests.

Industrial plantations have little in common with forests. Surapon Duangkhae, secretary general of Wildlife Fund Thailand, commented,

    “I think FIO should make clear that what they do is plantations. They do farming, they don’t do forestry. If they use a forest it’s not forest any more, it is their plantation. Because they clearcut you know, everything, then they just keep the trees that they want. When they plant the trees, after a certain period of time they cut them. Then they plant again. It’s just farming” (Surapon 2002).

Since FSC principles are aimed at forest stewardship then it is unlikely that the same principles can be applied to something that is fundamentally different to a forest. FER’s Virawat Dheeraprasert argues that plantations should not be a part of the FSC system: “Plantations are harmful per se to economics and local people and it’s not necessary to be included in the FSC” (Virawat 2002b).

Undermining democracy

In Thailand, a debate about forests, people and land rights has been taking place for at least the last twenty years. Villagers have protested logging operations and industrial plantation developments. Protests against the timber industry led to the ban on logging concessions in 1989. The development of fast-growing tree plantations (particularly of eucalyptus) in the northeast of Thailand has resulted in many protests.[23] Thailand’s newspapers frequently feature discussions of the issues surrounding people and forests in Thailand. Villagers have consistently demanded the rights to manage their own resources through, for example, the Assembly of the Poor.

In 1997, Thailand’s government passed a new constitution. The constitution was the result of an intense public discussion involving government officials, academics, NGOs and representatives of people’s organisations. The Constitution Drafting Assembly consisted of elected members from 76 provinces, selected not from members of parliament but from the public. Several articles from the new constitution are of direct relevance to forest management in Thailand, and to the certification of FIO:

  • Article 46: communities’ right to conserve and use natural resources.
  • Article 56: the right to a decent environment with requirements to carry out environmental impact assessments.
  • Article 58: the right to information.
  • Article 79: the state has a duty to promote and encourage public participation in the conservation and use of natural resources.
  • Article 290: local administration organisations have the power and duty to take part in the management, maintenance and use of natural resources
  • (Kosol 2001, Rasmussen et al. 2000 and Supradit 2002).

FIO’s activities conflict with all of these articles of the constitution. FIO’s plantations replaced villagers’ farmlands and in effect evicted them from their land. FIO has never allowed communities’ the right to conserve or use their natural resources. In fact FIO has actively prevented communities from exercising such rights. FIO does not carry out environmental impact assessments of its activities (see comments under criterion 6.1, above). The fact that parts of SmartWood’s documentation about their assessment of FIO (for example the chain of custody report) may be in breach of Article 58 of the constitution, particularly since FIO is a public organisation. FIO does not discuss its activities with the public living near its plantations and has for several years not even paid taxes to the local Tambon Authority Organisation.

SmartWood’s Public Summary makes no mention of Thailand’s constitution.

Neither does the Public Summary mention the draft Community Forestry Bill. Community forestry has been a focus of discussion on forest issues in Thailand for more than 10 years. Academics, NGOs and representatives from villagers’ organisations worked together to produce a draft Bill which would give communities the right to manage their forests. However, the Bill is currently stalled and is the subject of intense political debate in Thailand.

One of SmartWood’s assessors is Pearmsak Makarabhirom, of the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre, a Bangkok-based NGO. Pearmsak has for many years worked with NGOs in Thailand, as he puts it, “building the capacity of communities in managing natural resources including forests” (Pearmsak 2002). Pearmsak has been closely involved with the discussions surrounding the drafting of the Community Forestry Bill.

FSC’s Principle 10 states that plantations “should complement the management of, reduce pressures on, and promote the restoration and conservation of natural forests”. Throughout Thailand, hundreds of community forests managed by villagers are achieving exactly this. FIO’s plantations have replaced forest and farmland and have failed to reduce pressures on other forest areas. Indeed, there are concerns that the certification, by legitimising FIO’s logging activities could even result in an increase in illegal logging in Thailand. Virawat Dheeraprasert explains:

    “First you have to understand what illegal logging is and how illegal logging happens. It basically happens as part of logging activities. In Thailand anyway, it relates to the history of logging concessions. There may be two types of illegal logging. One is where local people do illegal logging. This depends on the law. For example, previously local people used to cut trees and use the timber, but when the companies were given logging concessions then only the companies could use the forest. Local people’s use then became illegal. The second type of illegal logging is the most serious, and happens when the companies themselves do illegal logging. They basically log areas that are outside the concession and then mix the timber along with the legally logged timber. This has led to the destruction of large areas of forest in Thailand.

    “In recent years illegal logging has decreased in Thailand. One reason is because the area of forest in Thailand has decreased. And the second reason is because people in Thailand are more aware of conservation of forests and there are many campaigns to conserve forest areas.

    “If FIO does logging there is an increased chance that there will be illegal logging because FIO will log and sell to sawmills. These sawmills can easily mix the FIO’s logs with other logs from illegal log sources. SmartWood’s report, for example tells us that the logs from Khao Kra Yang will be sent to Tak province, 300 kilometres away. This is extremely dangerous because the Royal Forestry Department’s statistics on illegal logging show that Tak province has the highest amount of illegally logged teak in the country. FIO’s transport of logs from Pitsanulok to Tak will only increase the opportunities for illegal logging in Tak province. SmartWood has totally failed to understand the problems of illegal logging in Thailand. They haven’t even mentioned it in their Public Summary. The taking of logs from Khao Kra Yang to Tak will only help increase forest destruction” (Virawat 2002b).

While the FIO’s plans for logging, ecotourism and tree plantations continue to threaten the natural forests and the livelihoods of local communities in Thailand, the certification of its tree plantations, in effect, simply assists FIO in delaying meaningful structural changes. With FSC certification, the organisation can continue to seek revenue from destructive logging operations and large-scale monoculture tree plantations.

In March 2002, FIO announced plans to convert 10.5 million rai (1.68 million hectares) of forest reserves into plantations. Chanatt Laohawatana, FIO’s managing director, told the Bangkok Post, “The country has large tracts of degraded forest land and uninhabited areas. The organisation will make money from this land by planting high-value trees, in particular teak” (Kultida 2002).

By ignoring the ongoing debate on people and forests in Thailand, SmartWood is in effect siding with an elite, whose interests lie in keeping the status quo and holding on to, or increasing, their own power. From the Public Summary, SmartWood’s assessment team appears utterly unaware that, as a firm hired by FIO, they are making political interventions, and dealing with straightforward technical matters. Issues of forest and land are something that the Thai public and their policy-makers are responsible for debating and deciding upon with their own processes and democratic institutions.

Noel Rajesh, a forest research with TERRA, commented,

    “After all the arguments back and forth about stakeholders and reports and appendixes and providing money for poor villagers, it essentially comes to this: through their “certification”, SmartWood is subverting ongoing democratic processes of debate and consultation of what Thai people, particularly the marginalised sections (as opposed to the FIO and the Thai elite), want to do or not do with their forests. SCC Natura’s consultants “failed” in their job in providing a debate about certification because it was not in their interests to do so. Neither is it in SmartWood’s interests – as long as they keep the discussion focussed on technical issues, wages, wood production plans and so on, they can ignore debates going on in Thai society (involving the public, NGOs, environmentalists, Assembly of the Poor etc.) regarding the purpose of the RFD and the FIO and their roles in forest use and management” (Rajesh 2001a).

In November 2002, two of FIO’s plantations remain certified. FER’s Virawat Dheeraprasert has a recommendation for FSC:

    “The failure to implement the conditions of the first year leads to our demand that FSC must revoke the certification. Revoking the certification can only benefit local people as well as the thousands of rai of plantations, so that they can be conserved and have the local people’s plan for management. Logging the area will destroy these areas, but if they are not logged and the certification is revoked then local people can join with the FIO to figure out a management plan to try and practice truly sustainable forest management.

    “It’s not necessary to talk of expanding certified areas, right now it is enough that FSC revokes the existing two areas that have been certified” (Virawat 2002b).


[21] Jonsson also observed in his Final Report, “As a fringe benefit of the consultancy FIO obtained new business relations (e.g. with IKEA [the Swedish retailing giant]) as a consequence of the consultant’s contact net in Thailand” (SCC Natura 2001: 24). The consultant referred to is Bo Karlsson, who has “assisted IKEA for more than a decade in establishing processing facilities in Asia and Europe. Karlsson is in the process of setting up a joint venture sawmill in Thailand” (SCC Natura 2001: 8).

[22] Fioline appears to have a link with Kircodan, a Danish garden furniture company. In September 2000, Fioline exhibited its furniture at an international fair for sprots and camping equipment and garden furniture in Cologne in Germany. The postal address, e-mail and fax number given in the fair’s brochure for Fioline are identical to those given for Kircodan.

[23] See Lang (2002) pp. 78-80 for a list of some of the protests about tree plantations that have taken place in Thailand.

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