SmartWood’s certification of the Forest Industry Organisation – Enter SmartWood

28 Aug

4. THE CERTIFICATION PROCESS: ENTER SMARTWOOD

By Chris Lang. Published by WRM, August 2003.


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In June 2000, after five years of preparation under the guidance of SCC Natura, FIO called for bids from certifying bodies for the certification assessment. FIO informed SmartWood of their successful bid in August and on 6 September 2000 SmartWood circulated a “Public Briefing Paper” which announced that they would be carrying out an assessment of FIO’s two plantations at Thong Pha Phum and Khao Kra Yang from 1-7 October 2000.

In countries where no national standard exists, such as Thailand, certifying bodies should produce an ‘interim standard’ before the assessment takes place.[3] SmartWood’s Public Briefing explained that “SmartWood will also capitalize, as a reference, on draft standards and checklists that have been developed for Thailand by other parties” (SmartWood 2000b). However, as SmartWood’s Jeffrey Hayward later admitted, when SmartWood’s consultants arrived in Thailand they realised that “there were no draft standards for forest management in Thailand” (Hayward 2001b).

According to Motion 29, passed at the 1999 FSC General Assembly, “Identified stakeholders must be informed at least one month prior to the main assessment evaluation taking place of procedures for developing the ‘interim standard’ (modified standards checklist developed from certifier generic standards)”. As SmartWood’s briefing was only circulated 24 days before the assessment started, and referred to non-existent “draft standards and checklists”, SmartWood is clearly in breach of this FSC Motion.

Further, Motion 29 continues, the ‘interim standard’ “must be finalised and circulated to stakeholders at least one month prior to the certification decision”. SmartWood failed to do circulate any standards and simply used the SmartWood “Generic Guidelines for Assessing Forest Management”.

SmartWood’s Public Briefing contains little information about FSC or what certification actually means. The briefing was not translated into Thai or distributed to communities living near the plantations to be certified.[4] SmartWood’s Jeffrey Hayward commented, “Unfortunately there was not time for us to do that” (Hayward 2001a). He explained that the briefing paper “is just a start. It has to be followed up through more personal communications – that can put a human touch on what certification is, who SmartWood is, where the FSC is coming from, what the certification could mean, why the assessment team is interested in different viewpoints on the operation under assessment” (Hayward 2001a).

SmartWood’s Jeffrey Hayward returned to Thailand after the assessment “to meet with stakeholders who are concerned about FIO management and the political implications of certification in Thailand.” One of the people that Hayward met while he was in Thailand was Witoon Permpongsacharoen, then-director of TERRA.

Witoon described the “consultation” as follows,

    “When he called me, I think he called from Jakarta, I asked him, how are you planning to deal with the Thai NGO movement and the fact that there is a logging ban in Thailand? I pointed out that what you are doing is to reopen the logging ban. This is not a technical issue this is a political issue in Thailand, so how are you dealing with this? This was my main question to him. Later he came to the office. We had a long talk with him. But it seemed to me like the process was already finished” (Witoon 2002).

In August 2001, Richard Donovan of Rainforest Alliance and Jeffrey Hayward of SmartWood wrote,

    “We are criticized . . . for not doing more national level consultation with NGOs. We had limited resources during the assessment. We could not stage national level forums to bring together stakeholders in the number or level of intensity that TERRA would have liked. However we took other measures to actively consult. We contacted NGOs (including TERRA and the other contacts they suggested, plus others), we spoke to academics, we contacted various forestry, social and environmental institutes in the country. We had numerous informal meetings with individual and multiple stakeholders” (Donovan and Hayward 2001).

However, a closer examination of the organisations with which SmartWood contacted reveals further problems with SmartWood’s national level consultation. SmartWood’s public summary includes a list of “Agencies & Persons Contacted & Consulted By the Assessment Team”. Under the category, “Other stakeholders” (i.e. national level organisations other than staff at FIO) is a list of nine people, from seven organisations (SmartWood 2001: 34). Two of the “stakeholders” work with RECOFTC, the same organisation as Pearmsak Makarabhirom, one of SmartWood’s assessors. Other organisations consulted included:

  • a United Nations agency: the Food and Agriculture Organisation;
  • two state organisations: the Office of Rubber Replanting Aid Fund and the Royal Forestry Department; and
  • two NGOs: Thailand Environmental Institute and the Kanchanaburi Conservation Chamber.

Top of the list of “Other stakeholders” is Noel Rajesh, who SmartWood described as “Journalist – Mekong Watershed Journal” from an organisation called “People’s Forum on Ecology”. In fact, Rajesh works for TERRA, a Thai NGO which publishes a magazine called Watershed: People’s Forum on Ecology.

Further, Noel Rajesh was not “contacted and consulted” by the SmartWood team. He interviewed Jay Blakeney, one of SmartWood’s assessors, on 10 October 2000 in the coffee shop of Don Muang, the international airport in Bangkok. The interview was for an article he was writing in Watershed.[5] During the interview, Blakeney said, with a straight face, that TERRA was one of the NGOs SmartWood was consulting as part of the assessment. This was the first that anyone in TERRA knew of such “consultation”.

On 21 August 2001, Rajesh wrote to Richard Donovan of Rainforest Alliance (with copies to Richard Hayward and Jay Blakeney of SmartWood):

    “I find it very disturbing that SmartWood would refer to the interview as ‘consultation’. Neither Mr. Jay Blakeney nor any member of SmartWood made any attempt to contact Watershed. In fact, we did not receive from SmartWood any formal information of the assessment process, or of SmartWood’s involvement, or Mr. Blakeney’s visit to Thailand. We learnt of the certification process from a newspaper report, managed to get Mr. Blakeney’s number and contacted him by leaving several messages at his hotel. Finally when we spoke, the only time he said that he had available was just before his flight. So we met at the airport before Mr. Blakeney’s departure from Thailand and did the interview that lasted less than an hour. I am not sure how SmartWood can classify this as ‘consultation'” (Rajesh 2001b).

Rajesh requested that SmartWood remove his name from the list of people “consulted”. Richard Donovan replied, “We will honor your request to remove your name from the stakeholder list” (Donovan 2001).[6] More than one year later, however, Rajesh’s name was still there, at the top of the list of SmartWood’s “Other stakeholders”.[7]

Pearmsak Makarabhirom, one of SmartWood’s assessors, works at RECOFTC and is well known in the Thai NGO movement. He has been actively involved in many debates about people and forests in Thailand. When asked why SmartWood consulted so few NGOs, he replied,

    “I think that we divided the work into many parts. I said I won’t call them, because they are all my friends, so you had better do it. I gave them the addresses and contacts and I said Jay or Jeff[8], you take care of it. I send them all, even NGOs in Kanchanaburi, Kanchanaburi Conservation Group, PER [Project for Ecological Recovery], NGO-Cord [Thai NGO Coordinating Committee] and other NGOs in the provinces” (Pearmsak 2002).

Sakorn Songma, works with an NGO in Pitsanulok called the Centre for Building Local Organisations for Ecological Recovery. Although the NGO is small, it works with a network of more than 64 villages which meet once a month. He first heard about FSC last year, from Virawat Dheeraprasert, of FER. He said,

    “We wondered whether this is going to be different from the normal plantation, but in fact it’s not different, they’re just going to cut as usual and sell. I still insist that what FIO has done is wrong. They brought in something we don’t know about with a stamp to say it’s sustainable, so that FIO can export timber from the country. These are areas that were planted under the logging concession. I don’t know the law, but I don’t agree with this project. I don’t know about the FSC” (Sakorn 2002).

In August 2001, SmartWood’s Jeffrey Hayward wrote to TERRA:

    “I appreciate Terra and Watershed’s concerns about building greater stakeholder participation at the national level. As certification is an ongoing, and not a static process, we hope that future audits, monitoring visits, and other opportunities to be in Thailand will permit greater interactions related to the FIO certification or to others that may arise” (Hayward 2001).

Yet, in August 2002, Sakorn’s NGO in Pitsanulok, TERRA, PER and Wildlife Fund Thailand were unaware that Hayward had visited Thailand again in May 2002 as part of SmartWood’s first year audit. SmartWood’s Public Summary of the audit was only posted on SmartWood’s web-site in October 2002.

When faced with criticism that national level consultation with NGOs and civil society in Thailand was inadequate, Richard Donovan of Rainforest Alliance and SmartWood’s Jeffrey Hayward responded,

    “We felt that we needed to aggressively consult with local stakeholders and we did so, not just during the assessment but in subsequent pre-certification visits to Thailand by SmartWood staff. . . . our consultation prioritized those people who live in and around the plantations, or who work there. . . . In the course of the assessment visit and the precondition audit, SmartWood assessors interviewed nearly 200 people” (Donovan and Hayward 2001).

SmartWood’s Generic Guidelines for Assessing Forest Management also emphasise the importance that SmartWood puts on consultation during its assessments:

    “Team members also meet independently with stakeholders. All assessments solicit and incorporate input (confidential and/or open) from as many directly affected and/or knowledgeable stakeholders as possible, including local communities, adjoining landowners, local forest industry, environmental organizations, government agencies, and scientific researchers. During these consultations, assessment team members explain the assessment process, solicit opinions, and gather impressions about the field performance of the operation being assessed” (SmartWood 2000a: 4).

Yet, villagers living near the two plantations, interviewed in August 2002 for this report, had never heard of either FSC or SmartWood. Somsak Ratanawaraha, the village head man of Ban Nam Tok Poi, a village near the Khao Kra Yang plantation, is listed as “consulted” in SmartWood’s Public Summary. When asked about the consultation process, however, he said, “We didn’t talk about anything, they only asked me questions. They didn’t talk about FSC. They didn’t talk about certification at all. They were talking about the plantation and what benefits are coming” (Somsak 2002).

Surapong Supkai, president of the council of the Tambon Administration Organisation (TAO), Huay Kayeng subdistrict, near the Thong Pha Phum plantation, had also never heard of either SmartWood or FSC. SmartWood’s public summary lists Sing Prai, a member of TAO as one of the villagers “consulted during stakeholder meetings” at Thong Pha Phum. Surapong knows Sing Prai and added that his second name is Pungbansanee. Surapong did not know that he had been consulted, and Sing Prai had never mentioned it to him. “It’s wrong, because the TAO was not consulted. It’s wrong to say that we were consulted,” said Surapong (Surapong 2002).

Soonan Nawan is the former head of Ban Wang Nam Khieo, another village near FIO’s Thong Pha Phum plantation. Soonan worked in the FIO’s forest village for 20 years, until he left four years ago because the wages were “very, very low”. When asked whether he had heard of FSC or SmartWood, he said that SmartWood had visited the area, but added, “They are received in the FIO office and they are taken around by the FIO. They never come to talk to the villagers. The FIO people talk with them. They have never come and said we want information from the villagers” (Soonan 2002).

In August 2001, Noel Rajesh, a forest researcher with TERRA, visited Ban Prajam Mai and Ban Paak Kok, two villages near to the Thong Pha Phum plantation. Neither of the villages are FIO forest villages and villagers receive few if any benefits from the plantations. Villagers in both Ban Paak Kok and Ban Prajam Mai said they have never heard of SmartWood or the certification and had never been visited by any representative from SmartWood (Rajesh 2001c).

Virawat Dheeraprasert, chairperson of FER, commented,

    “Local people have so far been totally unaware of the SmartWood process and the certification. There has been absolutely no local participation, which means in effect that FSC is supporting a process that violates the very basic principles of Thailand’s constitution” (Virawat 2002b).

FIO plans to extend certification to all of its 138 tree plantations in the next five years. Although SmartWood’s assessment in October 2000 only looked at two plantations, the assessment prepared the ground for future certification. Jeffrey Hayward of SmartWood explained:

    “The assessment is designed so that FIO’s management system is being assessed. Specifically it is addressed at the unit level. If the FIO management system is being used throughout their 140,000 hectare holdings, with little variation, then in the future, if we are evaluating additional districts, those that meet the certification standards can be incorporated into the group of FIO certified units. Meaning, that eventually, this certification can operate as a group certification” (Hayward 2001a).

In May 2002, SmartWood came back to Thailand, to carry out a first year audit of the two certified plantations. FIO hoped that SmartWood’s first year audit would also include an assessment of five more plantations for potential inclusion in the FSC certificate. However, SmartWood recommended that one of the plantations, Ta Pla, should “not be considered as a potential entrant to the certified pool” on the grounds that “there were land tenure issues” which “would pose a high risk for non-compliance with [FSC’s] Principle 2” (SmartWood 2002: 32-33). FIO duly withdrew this plantation from the assessment and SmartWood assessed the remaining four. After a whirlwind six day tour of Thailand, including visits to five plantations, SmartWood concluded that “Regretably, during the on-site audit visits, there were substantive areas that need to be improved to be in compliance with FSC Principles 2, 3, and 5” (SmartWood 2002: 35). Further explanation is only available in the “confidential section” of SmartWood’s audit report.

In August 2002, Chittiwat Silapat said, “Now we’re going to have four more certified plantations, maybe within this month. Another four teak plantations” (Chittiwat 2002). However, Chittiwat did not mention that SmartWood had already assessed these plantations and found that they did not conform to FSC Principles.[9] Chittiwat said, “I just got a draft report, I haven’t had time to read through yet” (Chittiwat 2002).

SmartWood’s assessment of FIO effectively continues the process started by Swedforest in 1993 – a process that has involved little discussion with NGOs and no facilitation of public debate about the role of FIO since the logging ban.

FIO’s ahistorical, apolitical, technocratic approach attempts to side-step issues such as land rights and communities’ rights to manage their own resources. SmartWood’s consultants appear to be supporting FIO in glossing over these issues. Asked whether controversies and scandals relating to the FIO’s previous logging and plantation projects would figure in the assessment, Jay Blakeney, the leader of SmartWood’s October 2000 assessment team, said: “SmartWood assessment is usually focused at the forestry management unit. The system of assessment doesn’t look at the historical and other institutional mistakes” (Watershed 2000: 52).

Richard Donovan of Rainforest Alliance and Jeffrey Hayward of SmartWood echoed Blakeney when they wrote in August 2001:

    “Certainly the most egregious past cases mentioned in articles about FIO (e.g. the Ban Wat Chan watershed) naturally were of concern to SmartWood, but we were not evaluating those areas or incidences within the scope of this certification. FSC certification is a tool for improving forest management – be that natural forest or plantation. FIO made a decision on its own that it wanted to improve. What we evaluated were the improvements taking place (or required to happen before certification could be granted) on two forest units. FIO was able to demonstrate to us that they are managing differently from the past on these units. FIO also indicated to us that the certified units represent a starting point for change in their system” (Donovan and Hayward 2001).

In response to a letter from Green World Foundation, a Thai NGO, Jeffrey Hayward of SmartWood said, “Certification is a way for any forestry operation to demonstrate that it has changed and is changing for the better. We are solution oriented. The past is a vital part of history and development, but how does it impact the present and future?” (Hayward 2000).

SmartWood’s assessment thus ignores the fact that they are partly determining FIO’s “right to be around” by ignoring the reality of social opposition to its very existence. In describing SmartWood as “solution oriented” in this context, Hayward is looking for solutions for FIO. The following section indicates just how far SmartWood is prepared to go to find solutions for FIO.

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Footnotes


[3] The setting up of national committees to discuss national standards for forest management is an important part of the forest certification process. In theory at least, it can involve a wide range of actors in a debate about the management of the country’s forests. The importance of national or regional standards is indicated in a recent report written for the Taiga Rescue Network by Hannah Scrase and Anders Lindhe: “The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)’s system of forest certification has become firmly established as a global mechanism for identifying and promoting good forest management. Good forest management is defined by standards developed by local stakeholders within the framework of the FSC’s international Prinicples and Criteria for Forest Stewardship. Forest stewardship standards maz be developed for a country or for a region. The use of national and regional forest stewardship standards ensures that the certifications process is fair, transparent and locally relevant” (Scrase and Lindhe 2001: 5). SmartWood’s Generic Guidelines for Assessing Forest Management state that: “SmartWood’s experience is that the regional standard setting process is an absolutely critical step in developing stronger stakeholder support for FSC and SmartWood certification” (SmartWood 2000a: 2).


[4] Hayward had promised that the draft assessment report would be translated into Thai. In January 2001 he wrote, “When the draft assessment report is translated into Thai, this will enable us to produce a Thai translation of the assessment guidelines” (Hayward 2001a). TERRA has never seen a Thai translation of any of either SmartWood’s or FSC’s documents. In fact, TERRA and PER translated SmartWood’s Public Summary themselves. Motion 28, passed at the 1999 FSC General Assembly states, “The General Assembly recognizes the need for translations of certification summary reports into the main native language. This should also be included as a requirement in the ‘FSC Guidelines for Certification Bodies.'”


[5] “Certifiable Lunacy: Thailand’s Forest Industry Organisation and forest certification”, Watershed, Vol. 6 No. 2, November 2000 – February 2001, pp. 48-52.


[6] Donovan continued, “I would respectfully disagree with you on the issue of interviews and consultation. In the FSC system, interviews dependign on their content, can be one form of consultation” (Donovan 2001). This comment raises serious concerns about SmartWood’s interpretation of what is meant by “consultation”. FSC’s Principles and Criteria document does not include “consultation” in the glossary but state “Words in this document are used as defined in most standard English language dictionaries”. The Collins Concise English Dictionary define the word “consult” as follows: “1. to ask advice from (someone) . . . 2. to refer to for information: to consult a map . . . 3. to have regard for (a person’s feelings interests etc.); consider.” An interview, on the other hand, is defined as “a conversation with or questioning of a person, usually conducted for television or a newspaper”. Plainly, to interview someone and to consult with someone are two quite different things. Rajesh commented, “According to SmarWood, if I go interview someone then I have been ‘consulted'” (Rajesh pers. com. 21 August 2001).


[7] On 7 October 2002, Rajesh wrote again to Richard Donovan requesting that his name be removed from SmartWood’s list of “other stakeholders”. On 19 November 2002, Jeffrey Hayward wrote to Rajesh, “I acknowledge your interest in not being termed a stakeholder. I had agreed to this change earlier adn had requested it. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I will see that the change is made” (Haywood 2002). Rajesh’s name was subsequently removed from SmartWood’s public summary document.


[8] Jay Blakeney and Jeffrey hayward, two of SmartWood’s assessment team from the October 2000 assessment.


[9] SmartWood’s Public Summary of the assessment only appeared on the SmartWood website in October 2002.



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