Last August I wrote a blogpost entitled FSC and the ILO.  It attempted to summarize and call some attention to a very strange, but important conflict that has arisen between FSC-IC and a group of (mostly) US companies over some apparently minor details of language in FSC documents.

The issue boils down to this:

  1. The latest version of the FSC Chain of Custody standard requires all FSC-certified companies to sign a self-declaration statement (Annex B of PRO-20-001).
  2. The self-declaration document includes – among several other items – a promise to “not be directly or indirectly involved in…Violation of any of the ILO Core Conventions as defined by the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principals and Rights at Work”
  3. A number of US companies object to and have refused to sign this last statement; some considering it to be in violation of US federal and/or state laws.  The reasons are complex and deeply embedded in the politics of international labor law.

The objecting companies have – to date – elected not to sign the required self-declaration.  FSC certification protocols required, as of October last year, that Certification Bodies (CB’s) raise Major Non-conformities during annual audits.  This has been happening gradually over the fall and winter.  Ordinarily Major Non-conformities must be resolved and closed within 90 days, but in this case FSC has issued a special exemption, extending all the deadlines to March 31, 2013.

A small group of very large and influential US companies have been in negotiation on this issue for some time.  The effort was organized and facilitated by FSC-US staff – who deserve a lot of credit for trying to defuse this thing.  Every account I’ve heard suggests that the discussions have been cordial and friendly; but to date there hasn’t been any real progress.  I’ve been told that the US companies have suggested the substitution of a handful of words in the offending document, but that FSC staff have been constrained by the need for approval from their Board of Directors.  For whatever reason, the process has dragged on for months, leaving most of the community wondering in the dark.

As of today, we are pretty certain that a large number (perhaps 200)  of FSC-certified companies are holding Major Non-conformities which – theoretically – could cause them to lose their certificates in about a month.  The group includes many of the largest paper and lumber producers in the country.  All are quietly waiting for FSC to blink.

So what’s the likely outcome?  Another delay, I’m afraid.  We should know soon.