In which CORE bids to Stop the War on the Poor by declaring bizarre war on FSC

This has me much bemused. FSC could do with some tightening up on standards and procedures, that is for sure, but the Congress on Racial Equality’s conclusions leave me asking WTF? They claim to expose three myths:

  • Myth 1: FSC is Transparent – FSC created its own NGO-influenced certification system without regard for national forest management standards or international standards bodies. FSC therefore lacks the arms’ length separation and independence enshrined in more reputable certification systems, such as Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) or Program for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification (PEFC).
  • Myth 2: FSC Protects Endangered Species – FSC products contain tropical forest species such as red lauan (shorea), a species listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • Myth 3: FSC Helps the World’s Poor – FSC labels increase the cost of otherwise low-priced goods in places like Wal-Mart for America’s disadvantaged, minority communities. Additionally, FSC certification is denied to goods produced from land converted from forests after 1994. This rule denies the developing world’s poor the opportunity of greater access to global markets.

It is questionable whether these even deserve the time of day to respond, but here goes:

  1. Quite apart from the fact that many people – myself included – might believe that FSC’s independence is a good thing, how is that not transparent? Transparency has nothing to do with the degree of separation between different entities. FSC certification is voluntary any way, so if you don’t like it, you can ignore it.
  2. CORE’s complaint here ignores the alternative. FSC is not perfect, but you can bet that FSC certified products have far lower proportions of such endangered species than non-certified ones.
  3. This is the most nonsensical allegation of the lot. FSC certification acts to ensure that environmental destruction costs are not externalised; such externalised costs fall predominantly upon the poor (e.g. as with climate change). Such externalities are far more common and typically more egregious in developing countries than in rich ones which have more robust institutions to police them. FSC also has significant safeguards to ensure local communities and the workforce get fair deals. As for the argument about the impact upon poor customers, one might as well argue that slavery should never have been abolished due to the impact on sugar and tobacco prices for poor, benighted consumers.

The longer report makes a smidgeon more sense, but is still a mix of confused arguments and contradictory positions: for instance it’s either a good thing to exclude endangered species from paper production or you can keep prices rock bottom for those poor American consumers (who aren’t half as poor as poor Indonesians suffering from respiratory illnesses due to out-of-control forest fires), but you cannot have both. I have previously argued that the barriers to entry for FSC certification should be simplified, and that would benefit poorer producers in developing countries, but let’s not hold any illusions, the vast majority of cheap wood and paper products are felled and manufactured by sprawling industrial empires; short of a penny or two to improve their operational standards they are not.

The Congress on Racial Equality is barely known in the UK, so I am unsure as to exactly how big a beast they may be on the other side of the pond, and how seriously they may be taken. But one look at their website tells me they are virulently against the environmental movement and firmly aligned with American conservatives (“Niger Innis [the author of this pathetic ‘report’] gets standing ovation at Conservative Leadership Conference ”). Have they received any donations from Asian paper barons recently, one wonders?

As for their report on FSC certification: tosh, utter tosh!


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