As the COP climate talks begin in Glasgow, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is opening its doors to one of Europe’s worst forest offenders, HS Timber Group. The FSC had disassociated from the company in 2017 following a formal complaint from WWF Germany citing illegal logging in Romania’s forests. Despite the company’s failure to gain control over its high-risk supply chains, the FSC has ended its disassociation with the company. This move comes just a week after international groups raised the alarm about systemic deficiencies in the FSC system in an open letter.
The FSC’s expert panel, in its 2016 investigation that led to the removal of the Austrian timber giant, found that log sourcing through intermediaries without physical traceability posed the greatest risk of illegal timber entering HS Timber’s sawmills. The panel recommended full traceability from stump to mill gates as the first condition before HS Timber could regain FSC status. Instead of following the advice of its own experts, the FSC watered this down to an obligation to collect paperwork – the very same easily-forged papers that Romanian government investigators found HS Timber dealing in many years ago.
EIA’s Executive Director, Alexander von Bismarck, said, “FSC’s decision on HS Timber is a slap in the face of all the Romanian citizens who have been fighting to save their forests from reckless loggers for years. Fortifying the status quo of opacity and covering up illegal activity is not the direction the FSC should be going.”
The main problem is the prevalence in HS Timber’s Romanian supply chains of sourcing from log traders; a practice highlighted for years as a means of laundering illegally-sourced timber. HS Timber still buys around half of its Romanian logs from hundreds of such log depots – a percentage that has changed little since EIA published its first investigation in 2015.
Multiple studies in recent years, including by the Romanian government, have indicated that around twice as much timber is being felled in Romania than the government legally authorizes. This vast quantity of illegal timber fuels corruption and violence; Romania ranks as Europe’s most corrupt country on Transparency International’s recent Corruption Perceptions Index, and recent years have seen over 600 cases of violence against forest workers, including half a dozen murders. HS Timber itself remains under investigation by Romania’s specialized anti-mafia prosecutors for suspected links with organized criminal groups. HS Timber’s ongoing purchases of hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of logs from log depots, lacking physical traceability to the forest source, means that it remains exposed to timber sourced illegally and potentially linked to violence.
Von Bismarck: “The FSC’s decision to end its dissociation with HS Timber means that FSC certification is unable to guarantee sustainability, or even legality, in timber sourcing. If the FSC fails to implement significant reforms including requiring traceability and transparency of certified companies, it will relegate itself to being just another empty label.”
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