World Rainforest Movement

Spain: The NORFOR/ENCE certification, yet another FSC fraud

The pulp and paper company ENCE owns monoculture eucalyptus plantations in Spain and Uruguay, certified by FSC. Part of these plantations, some 12,000 hectares spread out among over 200 plots, are located in the Northeast of Spain (Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria) and are managed by one of its forestry subsidiary companies, NORFOR.

Eucalyptus cultivation has been practiced in Galicia on a large scale from the fifties onwards and has increased since ENCE started producing pulp exclusively from eucalyptus wood. Today, the destructive potential associated with this crop can be noted, having been one of the main agents in the proliferation of forest fires, erosion and soil degradation, impoverishment of rural communities, low wages in forestry, loss of diversity and in wide areas the virtual disappearance of the ecological and cultural landscape.  The state of degradation reached in the plantations is leading the administrations to design policies aimed at controlling this species and substituting it with other more profitable and better adapted trees.

NORFOR’s forestry activities have been characterized by the use of very intensive and aggressive plantation practices as regards to their consequences on biological systems supporting production. Additionally, in the economic context, the company’s activities have had negative consequences as it is the main buyer of eucalyptus timber in Galicia, thus acting as a monopoly and causing prices to collapse. Socially the company’s activities have also had negative impacts, such as the impossibility of obtaining other forest produce due to the aggressive cultivation techniques which imply uncontrolled use of agrochemicals such as weed-killers, fungicides and insecticides, that lead to the elimination of a large number of organisms that would make bee-keeping, hunting, mushroom gathering or cattle-raising possible.

In September 2004, following an audit carried out by SGS -which was documented in an amazing public summary- NORFOR was granted FSC certification. This certification was questioned by Greenpeace, WWF and the Pontevedran Pola Defensa da Ría Association, supported by the ecological movement as a whole. This questioning highlights, with evidence, the company’s lack of compliance with the majority of FSC’s principles and criteria. However, the lack of sensitivity on the part of SGS, NORFOR and FSC itself was total and in spite of the fact that SGS had no option but to admit to the content of some of the complaints, the certificate was upheld.

Finally, after three years of complaints, FSC’s Accreditation Services International (ASI) decided to carry out a follow-up audit on SGS, the company having granted certification. In principle the auditing had been programmed to study the controversial aspects of certification and thus respond to the complaints that had been submitted and maintained.  The field audit took place at the end of May 2007 and included a brief meeting with the ecologist groups at the beginning of June. During this meeting, the ASI members declared that they had prepared and carried out the field audit without having read the contents of the complaints sent by APDR (Asociación pola defensa da Ría). Thus it became clear that the auditors were unaware of the facts and evidence contained in the complaints and that there had been no intention of finding out if these were true regarding NORFOR’s forestry management.

As expected, the auditors’ report was of very poor quality and doubtful honesty and only included a few of the cases of lack of compliance with standards, that had been highlighted in the claims against this certification. The report does not analyse indicators regarding compliance with Spanish standards, resolves Major Non-compliance with Principles with Requests for Minor Corrective Action, minimizes the effects of NORFOR’s poor practices and indicates that SGS has carried out a “professional” auditing process. Even so, ASI decided to maintain recognition of SGS as a certifying body and to uphold the company’s certification.

The conclusion to be reached is that FSC, having had the opportunity to check the negative aspects of NORFOR’s forestry management, has decided -by maintaining its certification- to take a further step along the road to fraud.  FSC’s ASI has not been willing to analyse the points contained in the complaints in order to avoid having to cancel the certification of this company and to withdraw its recognition of SGS as a certifying body.

This lack of interest shown by FSC in checking compliance with its own standards, as well as the large number of certified companies denounced by ecologist and human rights movements all over the world, is indicative that those presently responsible for FSC have taken up the position of emptying certification of content and certifying without considering compliance with standards. The company does not even show any interest in improving its management system.  Presently NORFOR’s plots show the same signs of degradation, they occupy protected ecosystems to plant eucalyptus monocultures, make massive use of agrochemicals, conceal the situation of certified plots and do not comply with most of the certification standards.

In view of this situation it is necessary to bring to the attention of citizens and administrations the fraud concealed behind many of FSC’s products, warning that behind the seal there may be poor forestry management, much more likely if the timber comes from  monoculture plantations and that it is possible that the “green seal” conceals an activity that is seriously damaging at the environmental, economic and social levels, as is the case with products made from NORFOR’s eucalyptus timber. Consumers must know that FSC certification is being granted without this implying the promotion of environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable forest management.

By Benito Andrade, Asociación Pola Defensa Da Ría (APDR), e-mail: apdr@apdr.info, www.apdr.info