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FSC International released a statement yesterday in the Newsroom section of their website.  It is entitled “Towards a stronger FSC Chain of Custody system“.  It is fairly short, and includes several important details, so we reproduced it here in full (with some interesting text highlighted and underlined).



Statement from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) 

FSC International recognizes that there is a gap in the current FSC certification scheme – a gap which is present in all similar Chain of Custody certification systems but which we wish to close. The gap consists in the fact that the precise volumes of FSC certified forest products traded are not being compared between trading parties within the chain of custody system. Our current standards and processes, along with the significant volume of FSC products traded, do not enable either certification bodies or ASI to detect discrepancies in the volumes reported by buyers and then used for ”volume credits,” whether caused intentionally or through negligence. This makes it nearly impossible to detect this type of fraud. This gap was one of the reasons for the development of the Online Claims Platform (OCP).

Because we have evidence that this loophole is being used intentionally, we need to close the gap as quickly and effectively as possible for the interest of all stakeholders and for the integrity of the FSC system. We are well aware of the risk our certificate holders face if they unknowingly purchase uncertified wood as though it were FSC certified and then have to face the implications, including reputational risk and remediation costs that the misrepresentation by the seller then entails. We are also aware that certificate holders desire more information on the extent of the problem and how it will be solved.

The FSC International Board has discussed these issues at several meetings. The Board considers the OCP to be one potentially effective instrument to address these system gaps and ensure compliance with the present and future chain of custody (CoC) administrative requirements, and for that reason the Board has supported significant investments in its development. But the Board also recognizes that there may be other systems available now and in the future.

In light of this, the Board:

      • Has asked for relevant criteria to close this gap to be included in the revised CoC standard, which will be released for consultation in a few weeks. The Board recognizes that businesses will need to have improved mechanisms and systems in place to show compliance with the new CoC requirements.
      • Has requested that more detailed information be collected on the extent of incorrect claims in the FSC system. This should be done in 2015 as part of the process to implement a revised CoC standard, once approved.
      • Requests the further development of the OCP as one tool to close the gap, recognizing that other existing and future systems may serve the same purpose. Alternative mechanisms will be acceptable if they meet our CoC requirements and allow for comparison and verification of FSC transactions between trading parties.
      • Expects the continued investigation of solutions where commercially sensitive information is not stored centrally and of the implications of using a risk-based implementation of the OCP.

The Board is committed to ensuring that the FSC system remains the most robust, credible certification system available. It is our ambition to uphold the environmental and social values of FSC, without compromising the need for economic viability of FSC-certified companies worldwide. 

Key Points

The first and most noticeable is a substantial retreat from the ill-fated Online Claims Platform (OCP) that FSC has been promoting for the last 2 years.  Readers of this weblog will be familiar with the OCP and with our opinions on it (we don’t like it).  There have been numerous hints this year that this enormous project is probably doomed.  But this is the most direct and explicit to date.  FSC staff are, of course, trying hard to sell this as a positive story, as in this article in UK’s PrintWeek.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the tide has turned on the OCP.

Chain of Custody revision expected?

The first item in the bulleted list at the bottom contains another, unrelated but probably more important, item.  They tell us the long-promised discussion draft of a revised CoC standard will be released “in a few weeks”.  This is big news indeed!  This page on the FSC-IC website has (we think) remained largely unchanged for at least 2 years.  But taking a closer look at the right-hand column under “Further Process” we see reference to a public consultation period scheduled to begin at the end of August (yes – that is last week!).  We have hopes of seeing something concrete very soon.

UPDATE (3 Sept. 2014):  I received some informal information today that FSC-IC do, indeed, have a working draft of the revised CoC standard which is nearly ready to distribute.  I was also told that an announcement concerning the revision process is expected this week.

The myth of the gap

The central, underlying theme of FSC’s statement addresses what they describe as “a gap in the current …scheme”.  The implication – one that has been repeated often recently – is that our CoC systems are inherently flawed.  This is wrong.

MixedWood is currently working on a follow-up post to challenge this assumption.  You can expect to see more on this subject very soon.