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Free, prior and informed consent applied to forests

Wednesday March 19, 2014

The Forest Stewardship Council has added the concept of free, prior and informed consent to its forest management standards around the world.

“FSC has embraced the UN Declaration (on Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and that concept of free, prior and informed consent,” said Peggy Smith, Lakehead University associate professor and member of Forest Stewardship Council Canada’s Standards Development Group (Aboriginal Chamber). “In Canada, we have four different sets of standards and they are going to be changed to one national standard. So that’s what is going on right now — it’s a process of looking at the international guidance and changing our standards in Canada to meet the new principles and criteria.”

FSC is an international certification and labeling system dedicated to promoting environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests. It was created in 1993 to help consumers and businesses identify products from well-managed forests.

“They certify the forests,” Smith said about FSC. “So you have to be able to track that product out of that certified forest and ensure that all along the way in its chain of custody that everyone else is following and meeting the same standards.”

FSC sets standards by which forests are certified, offering credible verification to people who are buying wood and wood products. It is the only forest certification system that requires consultation with local Aboriginal peoples with the intention of protecting their rights on public and private lands.

Smith said there are also a number of other standard systems in Canada and the United States, which are all private and voluntary.

“So it’s not as if a company has to be certified to one of these systems,” Smith said. “They choose to and it’s because the markets are demanding it. There has been a creation of consumer demand to know that the products they are buying are coming from well-managed forests.”

Smith said all of the different systems have their own label on the products.

“When you go to Home Depot, you can go and look for the FSC label,” Smith said. “That is an indication to the person buying the product that it’s coming from a well-managed forest.”
Smith noted that Resolute Forest Products is a local FSC-certified company.

“The initial companies that were part of FSC were Tembec (Inc.), Domtar (Inc.) and (Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries),” Smith said. “That has expanded so there are a lot more companies that are FSC certified.”

The free, prior and informed consent initiative is supported by TD Bank Group, Kimberly Clarke, National Aboriginal Forestry Association, Globe and Mail, The International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Boreal Leadership Council.

“Free, prior and informed consent is seen as one of the key principles of international human rights law to protect our people from destruction of our lives, culture and livelihood,” said Brad Young, executive director of the National Aboriginal Forestry Association. “FSC is the only forest certification system to implement and rigorously apply free, prior and informed consent to their forest management standards.”

FSC Canada’s primary goal is to increase meaningful and tangible benefits of certification for Aboriginal peoples and communities in Canada.

“The initiative will be conducted with the engagement of Aboriginal peoples and other stakeholders across Canada and will not only benefit Aboriginal peoples and communities, but will also provide forest management companies with clear direction and tools to help them apply the values of FPIC,” said Francois Dufresne, president of FSC Canada.

Karen Clarke-Whistler, TD’s chief environment officer, said the bank strongly supports FSC Canada’s initiative around developing practical guidance for implementation of free, prior and informed consent.

“This is a pressing issue for natural resource development in Canada and a successful outcome will benefit Aboriginal communities, the sustainable forestry industry and the environment,” Clarke-Whistler said.

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I think it is important to note that Resolute Forest Products has, in fact, lost 3 of their FSC certificates in Ontario and Quebec, covering a vast area of more than 8 million hectares. The certificates were suspended because the company failed to comply with key principles of the FSC system including the principle covering the issue of achieving support from First Nations communities on whose traditional territory they operate. The Grand Council of the Crees filed a formal FSC complaint about one of Resolute's certificates in Quebec and this was part of the reason for the certificate being suspended. The system has worked well - but I think it is important to get the facts straight about the so-called 'sustainability' claims of a company like Resolute. They are in conflicts with other First Nations communities. Check out what they are doing to the Barriere Lake Algonquins. Let's not forget that they were at the heart of the battle with Grassy Narrows First Nation for years, before they pulled out of that area of Ontario.

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