Yes, FSC-certified wood can be illegal.
Buying an FSC-certified product does not mean that the wood is legal, and it does not eliminate the need to conduct due diligence on the supply chain from which that product originated.
In 2018, a U.K. company was fined for failure to conduct adequate due diligence on a shipment that was FSC-certified.
More recently, the case of an FSC-certified exporter in Brazil – charged with various offenses related to illegal logging – demonstrates scenarios in which FSC-certified mills can ship illegal timber.
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 and be recognized as FSC-certified, but in reality, there is no guarantee that the material in the unit originated from a certified forest, and/or was legally harvested.
Taking a closer look at the recent case in Brazil, the methods for the alleged violations reportedly include:
- 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?
On one hand, FSC-certification can be useful for buyers of wood products, in that, for short supply chains, the process of conducting due diligence is a bit easier because much of the data required during the process is more readily available. This lowers the cost of data collection, albeit marginally.
On the other hand, FSC-certification can be misleading and cause buyers to lower their due diligence standards for FSC-certified suppliers.
When buying wood products it’s important to remember that FSC-certified wood can be illegal. From the perspective of legality, buyers should not treat FSC-certified wood any differently than non-FSC.
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Header photo: Markus Spiske