Yes, FSC certified wood can be illegal.

Buying an FSC certified product does not mean that the wood is legal. And FSC certification does not eliminate the need to conduct timber due diligence. In 2018 a company in the U.K. was fined for failure to conduct adequate due diligence on a shipment that was FSC certified.

So, how can FSC certified wood be illegal?

See: FSC Russia ban prohibits sale of FSC wood from Irkutsk sanitary logging

How can FSC certified wood be illegal?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) does not track and monitor each unit of wood. Instead, the FSC certifies companies and forest management units.

This means that a unit of wood can carry the FSC logo but in reality, there is no guarantee that the material in the unit originated from a certified forest, and was legally harvested.

See: Over 100,000 tons of fraudulent FSC plywood?

Take for example the case of an FSC certified company in Brazil that was accused of various offenses related to illegal logging In 2019. The methods for the alleged violations reportedly included: 

  • harvesting beyond concession boundaries;
  • illegal transport of timber;
  • illegal transfer of timber credits; and
  • documentation fraud.

While the vulnerability of the FSC system to contamination by illegal timber is probably not news to many industry professionals, it’s important for buyers to remain aware of the risks, especially given their liability.

How should buyers treat FSC-certified suppliers when conducting due diligence?

FSC-certification can be useful for buyers of wood products. The process of conducting due diligence can be easier because information about the supply chain is more readily available. This lowers the cost of data collection.

However, FSC-certification can be misleading and cause buyers to lower their due diligence standards for FSC-certified suppliers.

Just because a product is labeled FSC certified, does not guarantee that it’s legal.

From the perspective of legality, buyers should not treat FSC-certified products any differently than non-FSC.

This article is open source. If you would like to suggest changes to this document, or have concerns with any of the information presented here, please leave a comment below.

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