Can FSC-certified wood be illegal?

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.

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 contact us.

TIMBERCHECK™ helps you stay informed of risks in your supply chains. Join

Header photo: Markus Spiske

 

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3 Comments

  1. There is plywood being sold by PlyTek that has FSC logo on the side of the packs of plywood – but no FSC number on it. As well as CE marked with no CPD number on it. Is this correct ?

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    1. Dear Charles

      A company called “PlyTek” does not appear in FSC’s Certificate Database, see: https://info.fsc.org/certificate.php#result , not in the sections “valid”, “suspended” nor “terminated”. so if that is the official name of the company, the logo is fraud anyway. And in general: do not trust logos that have no registration number, and if there is a number and you have still doubts, or simply want to know more, check our public database whether the company has a valid certificate, whether the number is correct, and whether the type of product the logo is on is mentioned in the scope of its certificate. If that is all correct the chance of cheating is really small.

      yours, John Hontelez, Chief Advocacy Officer

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  2. Dear Editor.

    While the FSC scheme is not flawless, it is probably the best performing scheme available worldwide to reduce the risk timber originating from illegal harvesting and/or trade.

    Your two examples need correction. The FSC-certified company in the UK that got penalized for not having a due diligence procedure was NOT accused of importing illegal wood, but for not having a due diligence system. That is not the same, there was no indication at all that the wood was illegal. See also https://ic.fsc.org/en/news-updates/id/2070 in which FSC goes in more detail.

    In the second case you rightly say that it is possible that an FSC-certified company is involved in illegal wood trading. However, the title of your article is about “FSC-wood”. And here is the confusion between certification of a company and certification of shipments: only when a particular shipment has an FSC-claim, the FSC requirements and control regarding legality apply. Apparently, in the example you gave (you do not mention the name of the company), the illegal wood shipment discovered by the FSC-certified company was NOT FSC-certified.

    By the way, whenever companies are accused of being involved in illegal logging outside of their certified supply chains, and there is evidence available, the FSC Policy for Association can be called upon to withdraw all rights of certification from such a company. In some cases FSC acts on basis of complaints of stakeholders, in other cases it takes initiative itself.
    In this way FSC helps to avoid that companies abuse FSC certification as greenwash. And, indeed, this Policy is used, in several cases with dis-association as a result, and, even better, re-association after a company has taken sufficient measures to compensate for damage and improve its performance. The most recent example of disassociation was the Brazilian Jari Group, see https://ic.fsc.org/en/news-updates/id/2314

    John Hontelez, FSC Chief Advocacy Officer

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