SmartWood’s certification of the Forest Industry Organisation – The background to the certification

28 Aug


By Chris Lang. Published by WRM, August 2003.

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The idea of certifying FIO’s plantations was not developed from an analysis of Thailand’s forest problems, nor was it the result of a “consultation” process involving a wide-range of “stakeholders”, nor was it the outcome of a debate about forests among villagers’ organisations and NGOs in Thailand.

Instead, the FSC process arose as a result of a Swedish government-funded project which ran from 1993 to 2001, entitled “Organisational Development of the Forest Industry Organisation”. The project resulted from a meeting in 1992 between Carl Mossberg, a consultant working in Laos for Swedforest, a Swedish forestry consulting firm, and Chittiwat Silapat, who was then head of wood products sales at FIO. At the time Chittiwat was considering ways for FIO to survive in post-logging ban Thailand. He asked Mossberg whether there was “any possibility for us to have some help from Sweden” (Chittiwat 2000). Chittiwat visited Sweden in November 1992, discussed the project with officials at the Board for Investment and Technical Support (BITS), and once back in Bangkok started on a proposal. He submitted the proposal in 1993 and BITS subsequently agreed to fund the project (Chittiwat 2000).

Not surprisingly, Swedforest won the contract to run the project. Tomas Jonsson, the project manager for the project, said Swedforest won the project “In an open bidding process” (Jonsson 2001). However, FIO’s funding proposal states, “The project will be carried out in close cooperation between FIO and Doman through Swedforest International AB of Sweden” (FIO 1993: 4). At the time Swedforest was part of the Doman Group, the Swedish state forest enterprise. Part of the justification for the project was that Doman, like FIO, was a state-owned institution, and FIO wanted to learn from Doman’s experience.

Swedforest is no longer part of the Doman Group and since 1998 has been called Scandiaconsult Natura (see Box: SCC Natura).

SCC Natura

The Swedish forestry board founded the company now called SCC Natura in 1973. The company was set up under the name Swedforest with the aim of transferring Swedish forestry expertise to the South (Usher 1994). Swedforest was part of the Doman Konsult AB, which in turn was part of the Doman Group, Sweden’s state-owned forestry enterprise. The Doman Group was Sweden’s largest forest owner, with 3.4 million hectares of forest land.

In December 1993, Doman merged with Assi, one of Sweden’s largest forest product companies. Assi was one of Doman’s biggest customers, buying 37 per cent of its timber from Doman (PPI 1993). AssiDoman, the company resulting from the merger, is a private company. The Swedish state is the company’s largest shareholder, with approximately 30 per cent of the shares (Sivander 2001).

AssiDoman later sold Swedforest along with its other consultancy operations in order to concentrate on its core business of producing packaging, timber and forest ownership.

In 1998 Swedforest was renamed as Scandiaconsult Natura (SCC Natura) and today is fully owned by Scandiaconsult. Scandiaconsult is one of Scandinavia’s largest consulting companies, employing more than 2,000 people (SCC Natura www 1).

SCC Natura employs 25 core staff, around 25 long-term contract staff abroad, and has offices in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, India, Laos, Lesotho and Vietnam (SCC Natura www 1). Over the years, SCC Natura has benefited from contracts from, among others, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Sida, the International Finance Corporation, UNDP, FAO, and the Nordic Investment Fund (SCC Natura www 1). The company has worked in a wide range of countries including Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Indonesia, Tanzania, Chile, Ukraine and Sweden.

Although in its publicity material SCC Natura makes claims stressing the importance of “local empowerment” and “sustainable development”, its work areas include industrial forestry: saw mills, pulp mills, plantations and logging operations.

SCC Natura is not accredited as an FSC assessor but, through a partnership with Scientific Certification Systems, SCC Natura performs FSC assessments in Sweden. Through this arrangement, SCC Natura has assessed and certified Stora Enso’s four million hectares of forestry operations in Sweden. According to a report in Sveriges Natur, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation magazine, SCC Natura’s annual revisions of Stora Enso’s operations are carried out without making any checks in the field. In the six days allocated for the annual check, SCC Natura’s representative “stops at the district offices, reads the environmental audit report and talks with the staff” (Klefbom and Olsson no date).

The Swedish-funded FIO project ran in three phases: Phase I from November 1993 to February 1994; Phase II from November 1994 to March 1998; and Phase III from March 1998 to February 2001 (SCC Natura 2001: 5).

In what Carl Mossberg described as “finding a new life for FIO” (Mossberg 2000), the project aimed to help FIO change focus. FIO would throw off its old role as a debt-ridden organisation with a reputation for destructive logging and would evolve into an organisation practising sustainable forest management. One of SCC Natura’s project reports went as far as suggesting that FIO could set up local credit schemes for villagers, run rural development projects in association with NGOs, carry out joint forest management projects, set up grazing schemes with villagers, while quietly going about increasing its plantation area (von Walter 2000).

One part of the project involved SCC Natura preparing FIO for assessment for compliance with FSC’s principles. SCC Natura and FIO chose to bring two plantations up to FSC standards: Thong Pha Phum in Kanchanaburi and Khao Kra Yang in Pitsanulok. The total area of the plantations is approximately 5,000 hectares and the main species in both is teak.

SCC Natura carried out an evaluation of the two plantations, which was supposed to indicate which “management aspects were in line with the criteria – and for what aspects there was scope for improvement” (SCC Natura 2000: 19) According to SCC Natura’s final report on the FIO project:

    “The FSC approach to FIO’s forest management development has been most useful. The FSC criteria represent a contemporary view of forestry which combines various legitimate requirements of forestry (economic, social and environmental). Thus the initial analysis of FIO’s practices in the field clarified what FIO had to improve. . . . In the social field SCC Natura and FIO have increased the company’s overall awareness of the importance of working and collaborating with local communities and organisations. There has [sic] also been positive but minor adjustments made by FIO on worker relationships” (SCC Natura 2001: 19).”

SCC Natura claimed that the FSC preparation was a success: “In two test plantations management practices have been improved and FSC certification is within close reach – as the first in Thailand” (SCC Natura 2001: 4).

As a result of the project, SCC Natura reports that FIO has “become a FSC competence centre in Thailand” (SCC Natura 2001: 21) and FIO staff have been invited to give presentations on FSC and “sustainable forest plantations management” at various international conferences. FIO’s Chittiwat Silapat now lists on his Curriculum Vitae, attendance at training seminars, workshops and study tours in Finland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Canada, USA, Japan, Taiwan and Austria.

However, SCC Natura’s preparation of FIO to meet FSC standards was a technocratic process, involving little or no discussion with Thai civil society. NGOs in Thailand working on forest issues were unaware that SCC Natura was preparing FIO for FSC certification. Yet, in a 1997 request to Sida for further funding of the project, FIO claimed, “A process has been started, with FIO as lead agent, to develop national criteria for sustainable management of forests in Thailand” (FIO 1997: 6).

Tomas Jonsson of SCC Natura, wrote in the project Final Report (2001),

    “As part of FIO’s improved management principles the company has instituted a so-called FSC reference group which consists of representatives from the forest industry, RFD [Royal Forestry Department], TISI [Thai Industrial Standards Institute, Ministry of Industry], environmental and social organisations. The purpose of the reference group is to offer information on FIO certification development and seek advice from the participants on how to improve forest management. In the eyes of the consultant this reference group can be seen as an embryo to a true working group for the development of national (FSC) criteria for forest management. The four meetings which have taken place over the last 18 months has improved mutual trust among the participants and created a forum for exchange of information – in this way the group can be the foundation for future criteria development” (SCC Natura 2001: 10-11).

It is revealing that Jonsson does not name any of the “environmental and social organisations” involved. The reality is that this “FSC reference group” excluded the vast majority of Thai NGOs. For example, Surapon Duangkae, secretary general of Wildlife Fund Thailand, when asked whether SCC Natura or FIO had ever contacted his organisation about certification, replied,

    “I heard about it I think about 10 years ago: at that time, a letter came to us from the Forest Stewardship Council. They explained about their programmes and said they might be coming to Thailand to see whether there are any companies or industry which might request certification. At that time I remember they mentioned sustainable cutting, in plantations, not forest. After that I haven’t had information at all about what goes on, it’s quiet” (Surapon 2002).

The Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC) is a very well known organisation, both internationally and in Thailand. When SmartWood came to Thailand to assess FIO, they hired RECOFTC’s Pearmsak Makarabhirom as a member of their assessment team. However, when asked about SCC Natura and FIO’s attempts to set up a discussion on certification, Pearmsak said,

    “I didn’t hear anything. But when I ask Chittiwat [Silapat of FIO], he said they discussed it with their partner agencies, for example the FAO, some of the standards management organisations within the Ministry of Industry, the Thailand Environment Institute and the Royal Forest Department. PER, TERRA[2] or RECOFTC were not invited” (Pearmsak 2002).

SCC Natura’s Tomas Jonsson, writing elsewhere in the FIO project Final Report admitted that in fact SCC Natura and FIO had made little or no progress in setting up an FSC Standards Working Group:

    “Within the framework of FSC, which is the system favoured by FIO, no committee for criteria development is established in Thailand to date. FIO and the project has explored the interest among forest sector actors in getting involved in this type of work but so far no committee (in the FSC terminology working group for standard development is the more common word) is formed” (SCC Natura 2001: 22).

However, Jonsson refused to take any blame for this. Instead, he argued that the problem lies with the fact that NGOs in Thailand are simply not interested in certification:

    “In most countries or regions where as a matter of fact FSC working groups have been set up the initiative has commonly come from prominent NGOs. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has taken a strong lead globally and locally. The project has interacted with WWF in this matter but in Thailand WWF prioritises other issues.

    “It is not realistic to believe that a state owned forest company like FIO – with a past history of forest management which is not necessarily acceptable to all stakeholders – take the lead in forming a FSC working group. But the consultant is of the opinion that the projects reference group has been a positive initiative to get stakeholders together. It is an attempt to share ideas and information. Four reference group meetings have been held with 6 to 10 external organisation taking part at the meetings” (SCC Natura 2001: 22-23).

In reality, however, the whole exercise appears to have been more to do with FIO’s public relations than a real debate on the role of the FIO, certification and sustainable forest management in Thailand. In a section of SCC Natura’s Final Report entitled “Reflections by the consultant” Jonsson wrote: “FIO has been open to exchange information with stakeholder groups and have started to interact more with NGOs. This contributes to improve FIO’s image” (SCC Natura 2001: 26).

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[2] Project for Ecological Recovery (PER) is a Thai NGO and Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA) is a regional NGO based in Bangkok.

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