FSC puts Schweighofer on probation – immediate action needed by both parties to stop illegal timber trade | WWF

FSC puts Schweighofer on probation – immediate action needed by both parties to stop illegal timber trade

Posted on 07 December 2016
© Călin Ardelean / WWF
Vienna, 7 December 2016 – WWF is demanding that wood-industry company Holzindustrie Schweighofer (HS) take immediate action to address irregularities and illegalities in its timber trade operations in Romania, and in the harvesting of timber from forest land that was purchased under dubious conditions, following the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)’s decision today to put HS on probation.

The decision comes after an independent panel appointed by FSC concluded that HS is involved in illegal timber trade. FSC’s decision outlines conditions to be met by HS prior to the next meeting of the FSC International Board of Directors in February 2017. Whilst WWF welcomes the acknowledgement by this FSC process that HS is involved in illegal activities, we expect a firm signal and quick action to ensure that HS meets the requirements outlined by FSC.

"The FSC investigation panel concluded that there is strong evidence Schweighofer has been involved over an extended period of time in the trade in illegal logging and trade of illegal timber," said Johannes Zahnen, WWF Forest Officer. "However, the decision today by FSC's board of directors not to disassociate from Schweighofer falls short of WWF's expectations that it take immediate action on the case.
"The decision can too easily be taken by Schweighofer and other companies as carte blanche to use illegal methods without risking the right to use the FSC logo," Zahnen added.
For WWF, it is critical that companies are not allowed to evade the consequences of engaging in activities that incentivize a system of illegal wood trade. For almost two years, environmental organisations, journalists, as well as the Romanian Ministry of the Environment, collected evidence that Schweighofer has purchased illegal wood or wood without documents, paid bribes, and worked with bogus companies.
FSC’s investigation was prompted by a WWF complaint in November 2015. FSC appointed an independent Complaints Panel (CP) to investigate the allegations against HS. In the process, the panel reviewed more than 400 documents and conducted a number of interviews.
The CP report validates concerns raised by WWF, stating that "there is clear and convincing evidence that HS has been involved in illegal timber trade both by accepting illegal timber into its mills and by its own actions in the mills. The panel has also found that HS has developed a supply system that encourages overharvesting of legally stipulated production levels in order to meet volume demands. In addition, HS has unwisely associated with companies and individuals with strong allegations of illegal and corrupt actions against them and, in some cases, has pre-financed their forest activities. The CP is also aware of more recent allegations of illegality and corruption surrounding timber that HS sources from Ukraine for its mills in Romania. These were not investigated by the CP."
The CP concluded that there is clear and convincing evidence that HS violated the FSC Policy of Association, and recommended that the FSC board uphold the complaint of WWF and disassociate from HS.

“WWF expects FSC to executes a prompt, strict, and transparent monitoring of the work progress to avoid the perception that the board decision means illegal practices are registered but not sentenced under the FSC system,” Zahnen said.

WWF will continue the fight against illegal logging and maintain the call for real transparency in the timber market.
"The success of Romania’s economy, people and biodiversity are closely linked to forests, and they cannot be regarded as free resources for irresponsible businesses to exploit," said Magor Csibi, Director, WWF-Romania. "Forests can offer long term benefits to the local communities and to the society as a whole if managed responsibly, but not if they’re misused for immediate profit. The Schweighofer case should act as motivation for decisive action to stem the flow of illegal timber into the market."
Note for editors:
To avoid disassociation, Schweighofer must meet the following conditions prior to the next February 2017 FSC board meeting:
  1. Publicly declare their responsibility for certain irregularities in their supply chains and their commitment to address relevant shortcomings in collaboration with civil society organizations. 
  2. Demonstrate that it is engaged in a transparent and constructive dialogue with environmental and social stakeholders about a clear plan of corrective action built on the recommendations of the complaints panel. This plan shall address both the significant shortcomings still existing in their operations as well as the major impacts on forests and people that irregularities in their operations have caused. 
  3. Present a preliminary plan of corrective action to the FSC board for approval. 
For more information, contact:
Gerhard Auer, Press Officer WWF, Tel: + 43 01 48817-231, E-Mail: gerhard.auer@wwf.at      
Johannes Zahnen, Forest Officer WWF, Tel: + 49 30 311777252, E-Mail: johannes.zahnen@wwf.de
© Călin Ardelean / WWF Enlarge