The certification of Thailand’s Forest Industry Organisation

1 Oct

In June 2001, SmartWood gave Thailand’s Forest Industry Organisation the FSC ‘green’ certificate. It’s difficult to imagine how they came to the conclusion that FIO is in any way ‘green’.

By Chris Lang. Published in Pulping the Mekong, October 2003.

In June 2001, two teak plantations managed by Thailand’s Forest Industry Organisation (FIO) were awarded a certificate as “well managed” under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) system. The plantations, at Thong Pha Phum and Khao Krayang, were assessed by SmartWood, an organisation run by Rainforest Alliance, a US-based NGO.

FIO is a state-owned forestry enterprise formed in 1947 with the mandate to manage logging concessions in Thailand. FIO was responsible for organising the destruction of Thailand’s forests until the logging ban of 1989. FIO has also established plantations on 140,000 hectares in Thailand, often without the consent of the local communities who were using the land. Certification under FSC enables FIO to cover up its history and its financial problems, which have become severe since the logging ban deprived the organisation of its main source of income.

SmartWood did not include FIO’s history in its assessment. Jeffrey Hayward, SmartWood’s team leader in Thailand, explained, “Certification is a way for any forestry operation to demonstrate that it has changed and is changing for the better. We are solution oriented.”

This ignores the fact that SmartWood is 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.

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.”

Yet villagers living near the two plantations have never heard of either FSC or SmartWood. Somsak Ratanawaraha, the village head man of Ban Nam Tok Poi near Khao Krayang plantation, is listed as consulted in SmartWood’s Public Summary of the assessment. When asked about the consultation process in August 2002, 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.”

Veerawat Dheeraprasert, chairperson of Foundation for Ecological Recovery (FER) a Thai NGO, 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.”

In accordance with FSC rules, SmartWood has produced a public summary of its assessment of FIO’s plantations. FSC rules state that public summaries must “make clear the correlation between the specific results of the certification assessment and the FSC Principles and Criteria.”

SmartWood’s public summary does not do this. For example, SmartWood set out 26 conditions which FIO must meet if the certificate is to remain in place, but the public summary does not explain to which of FSC’s principles and criteria the conditions relate.

Fifteen of these conditions had to be met either immediately or within one year of the certificate being issued. To check whether FIO had in fact met the conditions, SmartWood returned to Thailand in May 2002 and carried out a first year audit. They found that FIO had failed to meet five of the conditions and had only “partially met” seven more conditions. In August 2001, Donovan and Hayward wrote, “They have to meet our conditions or the certificates will be revoked.” However, instead of revoking the certificate, SmartWood issued a series of “corrective action requests” (CARs) with new deadlines.

In January 2003, SmartWood’s audit team found that FIO had met two of the new CARs but had only “partially met” the remaining four. SmartWood issued six new CARs which were to be “effective immediately”. SmartWood’s report of the audit states that “If [FIO] is not able to close out the significant CARs issued, the certificate will be suspended until that time by which FIO can demonstrate compliance.”

In June, SmartWood’s audit team checked whether FIO had met the latest series of CARs. The auditing team will write up a draft report by the end of July, which will be sent to SmartWood and then to FIO for comments. A public summary of the report will be available “hopefully by mid-August 2003” according to SmartWood’s Hayward. “We will also make clear whether or not we have suspended or terminated the certificate,” he added.

At the end of September, SmartWood has still not made the public summary available. Based on the record so far, it seems unlikely that SmartWood will suspend or terminate FIO’s certificate. It also seems unlikely that FSC will put any pressure on SmartWood to make it do so.

At the same time SmartWood was carrying out its audit of FIO, in January 2003, FSC’s Accreditation Business Unit was also in Thailand, to conduct an accreditation monitoring audit of SmartWood. FSC found that SmartWood was in breach of several FSC rules.

As a result, FSC issued eight minor and five major CARs which SmartWood must address “in a timely manner” according to Hubert de Bonafos, FSC’s Accreditation Officer.

FSC confirmed that SmartWood’s public summary on FIO indicates “a number of significant shortcomings in FIO’s level of compliance with FSC Principles and Criteria.” In other words, SmartWood awarded the certificate to FIO despite the fact that FIO’s management of the two plantations does not meet FSC Principles.

There are no FSC national standards and no national initiative to develop such standards in Thailand. In such cases, FSC certifying bodies should develop an interim standard which should be circulated to “stakeholders” one month before the certification decision. SmartWood failed to do so and instead used its “Generic Guidelines for Assessing Forest Management”.

FSC’s January 2003 audit confirmed that in doing so, SmartWood was in breach of FSC rules. FSC therefore requested that SmartWood produce an interim standard “through an appropriate stakeholder consultation process”. Thus in May 2003, almost two years after awarding the certificate to FIO, SmartWood produced an “interim standard” for Thailand.

However, it is difficult to see how FSC can consider that the consultation process was in any way “appropriate”. In July 2003, FSC’s Hubert de Bonafos claimed that SmartWood has already translated its interim standard for Thailand “into the national official language”. Two days previously, SmartWood’s Jeff Hayward stated, “We are in the process of getting this document translated into Thai.” Apparently FSC and SmartWood expected Thai “stakeholders” to comment on a 21-page document written in a foreign language. Hayward confirmed that “input has been rather limited.”

SmartWood’s interim standard for Thailand is very similar to SmartWood’s Generic Guidelines for Assessing Forest Management. The section on Indigenous Peoples (FSC Principle 3) is word for word identical to the corresponding section in SmartWood’s Generic Guidelines. It fails to address important issues faced by Indigenous Peoples in Thailand, such as, for example, the fact that the Thai State does not recognise many of Thailand’s Indigenous Peoples to be Thai citizens.

However, the most serious criticism of SmartWood and FSC is not that they are breach of their own rules, but that they are undermining local environmental and social movements. Issues relating to people and forests are the subject of intense political debate in Thailand. For example, 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. Though currently stalled, the Bill is the subject of intense political debate in Thailand. SmartWood’s public summary makes no mention of the Community Forest Bill.

Neither does SmartWood’s Public Summary mention Thailand’s 1997 constitution, which gives communities the right to conserve and use natural resources. FIO’s plantation operations have actively prevented communities from exercising such rights. By ignoring the ongoing debate on people and forests in Thailand, SmartWood and FSC are in effect siding with an elite, whose interests lie in keeping the status quo and holding on to, or increasing, their own power.

In May 2003, Veerawat wrote to FSC explaining that FIO is in breach of Thailand’s 1989 Logging Ban and the 1997 Constitution. “The SmartWood report contains a number of flaws and omissions that reveal the numerous problems surrounding the SmartWood certification of the two teak plantation areas,” he wrote. Veerawat concluded by demanding that “FSC cancel the FIO certification with immediate effect in the two plantations in order to prevent the further destruction of the ecosystem, local culture, local economy and livelihoods by the FIO.”

Two weeks later, FSC’s Hubert de Bonafos, replied to Veerawat. Instead of responding to Veerawat’s request that FSC cancel the certificate, de Bonafos thanked Veerawat and his organisation for their “positive contribution to this FSC monitoring process”.

In December 2003, SmartWood suspended FIO’s certificate.

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