FSC GA 2017 Day 4: Observations & Comments

MixedWood continues to follow and participate in a number of engaged discussions on several topics at the FSC 2017 General Assembly (GA) in Vancouver this week.  We continue to be impressed with the quality of cross-chamber, collaborative policy and decision making.  Lots of enthusiastic and talented people are doing a great deal of speaking and listening.  A lot of learning is going on along with slow progress towards some challenging policy conclusions.

This post will offer some short observations and comments on a few topics that we find particularly interesting & important.

Governance

The FSC governance model has been described as “painfully democratic”.  Watching it in action this week: we can confirm that this is true.  Great effort is made to ensure that each and every member is provided the opportunity to speak their mind and influence the discussions.  On the other hand, there are a lot of side discussions constantly underway, where many of the key progress is actually happening.  Overall it seems to work well, but it’s clearly far from perfect.

A great deal of attention is being applied this week to the challenge of improving and reforming FSC’s rules for governance.  This includes output from a diligent Working Group, as well as a wide variety of overlapping and sometimes contradictory policy motions.  The degree of complexity is proving challenging for many members and it seems likely that the formal debate – beginning tomorrow – may be a bit contentious.

Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL) & the “Canada Problem”

MixedWood has watched and commented on the challenges of FSC implementation in the Canadian Boreal region for some time.  Our perspective is very much a neighbor’s view, and we have tried to avoid offering opinions on subjects we are not competent to properly appreciate.  We have expressed concerns about specific messages and actions by FSC staff on occasion.

The IFL discussions at the General Assembly extend beyond Canada, to include other boreal regions (Russia and the Nordic countries) as well as the key tropical IFL’s in West Africa and South America.  The differences between these regions is very striking, and the many problems seem to be more prominent than the solutions.  We think this subject will be on the table for a long time to come.

Chain of Custody Social Indicators

The subject of introducing social indicators (specifically compliance with ILO indicators) into Chain of Custody (CoC) certification remains important to members of the Social Chamber – offered as Policy Motion #50.  This motion seems to lack the support necessary to be enacted tomorrow, but the issue remains concerning to many folks.  At the heart of this subject is a genuine disagreement about the scope of FSC’s activities.

MixedWood has argued for years that CoC should be as simple as possible.  Others in the community make equally-sincere arguments that FSC Chain of Custody should be used as a vehicle for defending the fundamental rights of workers.  It is a difficult choice which seems to offer little ground for compromise.

Controlled Wood Implementation

It seems likely that FSC will choose to follow our advice – at least for the moment – and “Do No Harm” to the Chain of Custody program.  Many challenges will remain, however.

In the first place, many CW-certified companies are facing immediate challenges to implementing the latest version (v.3-1) of the standard.  This seems to be particularly so in Central Europe where many NRA’s and CNRA’s are already approved and requiring many new Control Measures without clear solutions.  A large proportion of companies are doing their transition to version 3-1 right now, in order to conform to the end-of-year deadline. This raises the stakes for everyone.  A stressful time.

For North American practitioners, the challenge is to wait (patiently or impatiently) for FSC-US and FSC-Canada to release discussion drafts of their new National Risk Assessment (NRA).  We have been told to expect the US document quite soon, which is likely to include regionally-specific new requirements for wood-purchasing companies.  MixedWood will be monitoring this process closely and plan to publish our own analysis as quickly as possible once the details are made available.

Controlled Wood Strategy

The challenges of implementing and transitioning to a new CW standard are further confused by the fact that FSC continues to struggle with its strategic objectives for the program.  The root of this challenge is another fundamental disagreement among the membership.  In some ways, this resembles the disagreement about CoC Social Indicators.  In the view of certified companies (the Economic Chamber), Controlled Wood is a necessary and unavoidable part of the infrastructure of a successful certification market.  Others in the organization (principally Environmental members) remain deeply and sincerely committed to the idea of CW as a temporary compromise, designed to establish the FSC brand and in need of phasing out (some say sooner, some later).  We think there should be room for compromise on this topic, but it will not be easy.  FSC have committed to an engaged consultation and collaboration initiative in the coming year.  We hope to take part.

Voting Sessions Thursday and Friday

The formal policy generation of the General Assembly will begin on Thursday morning and continue for 2 days.  It promises to be entertaining!

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