Blasting the FSC in the Netherlands

JULIO CESAR CENTENO

Something peculiar is going on in The Netherlands. A series of contradictory statements have been publicly circulated by reputed organizations, with badly damaging consequences for their own credibility, and for the prospects of the Forest Stewardship Council as a potentially reliable organization in the area of forest management certification. They all revolve around the teak plantations established in Costa Rica by the Dutch owned company FLOR Y FAUNA.

During at least 4 months, Flor y Fauna and the insurance company OHRA have publicly claimed that their plantations in Costa Rica have been certified as "well managed" by the Forest Stewardship Council, FSC. This claim has been published in full page adds in the newspapers with the highest circulations in The Netherlands. It has also been printed on promotional brochures, and on letters sent to potential investors.

The claim has often come with the official endorsement of the local office of the World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF-Netherlands. Similar statements were made in a court of law by representatives of Flor y Fauna on December 28, 1995. This claim has been maintained even by WWF-Netherlands, as reported in "De Gelderlander" and in "Het Brabants Dagblad" as late as February 9, 1996.

However, the Forest Stewardship Council [FSC] does not have the mandate to certify forest operations anywhere. It is an organization set up to accredit certifiers. The certificate issued to Flor y Fauna comes from the Rainforest Alliance, a non-governmental organization in the USA. But the claims in question avoid any reference to this organization. The Rainforest Alliance has not been accredited as an official certifier by the FSC. The claimed endorsement of the plantations in question by the FSC seems thus part of an attempt to gain credibility through obscure means.

The misleading nature of these statements has been reported in the media. The insurance company OHRA recently recognized publicly the falsehood of these statements, arguing that they were due to "a mistake", a slip of the pen. [Elsevier, issue of 17 February 1996].

During all this time, we have witnessed a strange silence from the organization responsible for the certificate in question, the Rainforest Alliance and, even more surprising, from the FSC itself. The FSC's name has been unlawfully used to deceive the public and a court of law. It has been used to provide credibility to an operation with highly questionable technical, financial and ethical dimensions. Its involvement in this affair can cause significant damage to the organization, and therefore to all those who have supported its mandate and purpose. Nevertheless, the FSC has kept conspicuously silent throughout the whole affair.

Now, to everyone's astonishment, the Netherlands office of the World Wide Fund for Nature has just put into circulation a beautifully colored, 34-page brochure, highlighting the virtues of the FSC, and how the Dutch timber market prepares itself for FSC timber. It reassures that the Forest Stewardship Council has certified Flor y Fauna's Teak plantations. According to WWF-Netherlands, Flor y Fauna is the first Dutch producer of tropical hardwood certified by the FSC, for the good management of its teak plantations in Costa Rica.

In a strange attempt to render credibility to what is openly known to be a false claim, WWF Netherlands further add that "5 million hectares of forests, in 19 different areas, have been certified by the FSC"

The surprise and confusion stemming form these awkward statements is enhanced by the fact that both WWF and the government of The Netherlands are key financial supporters of the FSC. Is this then an additional and coincidental "mistake", made by employees at WWF-NL without efficient supervision? It certainly adds to the state of misinformation and confusion which has plagued individual investors in this venture for years.

It would be beyond comprehension that such a fashionable brochure could have been printed without knowledge by the FSC. The new FSC logo is on its cover, and its content makes detailed reference to the organization. It is easily taken as a joint publication by WWF and the FSC. The Forest Stewardship Council is thus placed in a highly compromising position, involved in allegations which seriously erode its reliability and credibility.

topJulio Cesar Centeno
jcenteno@ciens.ula.ve