A logging corporation at war on several fronts over loss of coveted FSC certifications

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In today’s forest industry, a certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is worth money, big money.

Created in 1993 to allow companies and the public to identify products coming from responsibly managed forests, the FSC provides a trusted seal of approval that commands higher market prices for producers.

Resolute Forest Products is the world’s largest FSC-certified forest company. But increasingly, the Montreal-based forestry giant once known as Abitibi-Bowater is losing important FSC certifications over questionable logging practices in Quebec and Ontario.

The company is fighting back. On May 20, Resolute went to court to prevent the release of a negative audit of its practices near Thunder Bay, Ontario, which could result in the loss of a FSC certification. Last year, Resolute filed a $7 million lawsuit against Greenpeace for an ongoing campaign to revoke a FSC certificate for logging practices that it says damaged woodland Caribou habitat in Quebec.

The move to suppress damaging information is familiar to the Grand Council of the Crees.

A year ago, the Grand Council filed a complaint over the granting of a FSC certification for a Resolute forest management plan that affected Cree traplines in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region – despite the company’s refusal to consult the Grand Council. Aboriginal consent is a key component of the certification process.

In December, the global oversight body called Accreditation Services International (ASI) ruled that the auditor, the Rainforest Alliance, should not have recommended this FSC certificate. The Rainforest Alliance is one of the main FSC certificate auditing agencies, but is now, ironically, also the target of the Resolute Forest Products’ lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court last week.

This a complicated story, made murkier still by money and the legal power it can buy. While the Grand Council received the original ASI report before Christmas, it was told to keep it private until it was officially released. As the months stretched on into this spring without any action by the agencies involved, however, the Grand Council started sharing the report with selected stakeholders.

That prompted ASI to finally release a public version of the report in April, a version in which the name of the company involved was nowhere to be found. Resolute’s penchant for launching lawsuits could be one reason for the hesitation. Greenpeace Quebec says that Resolute engages in abusive legal actions called SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuit against public participation) intended to silence its critics.

ASI Compliance Coordinator Angeline Robertson confirmed that Resolute requested that its name be expunged from the final report over confidentiality concerns of its logging plans.

“The FME (forest management enterprise) in this case requested to have their name removed from this public summary,” Robertson told the Nation via email from Germany. “All of the aforementioned organizations are allowed to make requests for omissions to the public summary and all of them are aware of the omissions that have been allowed by ASI prior to the release of that document.”

According to GCC Senior Environmental Analyst Jeff Quaille, the process is tainted by its lack of transparency. “Those that err should not have the power to basically cover this thing up,” said Quaille.

Despite this, Quaille said that he chose to pursue this issue to ensure that the rights of First Nations remain protected in this process.

“I believe it will ensure that future certifications (companies and auditors) will not take principle 3 and Indigenous ‘Prior, Free and Informed Consent’ for granted. For the Crees it will ensure that all other certifications in Eeyou Istchee are treated in similar fashion,” said Quaille.

Last year, he explained, the Grand Council had requested that Resolute share its data to show how they had been complying with an accord with the Cree known as the Baril-Moses Agreement. But Resolute reacted by immediately ceasing all communication with the Cree.

The Grand Council then contacted the Rainforest Alliance to understand why Resolute was being granted the certification.

“We made this known to Rainforest Alliance who was undergoing the audit at the time that we thought that there was a big problem and that we needed to find out from either the company or the government exactly what had been going on,” said Quaille. “We argued that it doesn’t seem fair.”

When Rainforest Alliance finally did hand over the data, it was clear that the Baril-Moses Agreement had been breached; Quaille said the Grand Council then requested an opportunity to participate in the audit process but was told by Rainforest Alliance it was too late, they had made their ruling and Resolute would get the certification.

The Accreditation Services International audit concluded the certification should not have been granted over Cree objections.

Greenpeace Quebec Director Nicolas Mainville, who is responsible for Greenpeace’s Forestry Campaign, said he is hopeful that some change can come about as a result.

“Resolute lost its FSC certificates in part because of its disregard for the right of First Nations for prior and informed consent about forestry activity. Now this multibillion-dollar corporation is trying to control information and use aggressive advertising campaigns and a meritless lawsuit to hide from their responsibilities. Instead of investing in marketing to try and convince people they’ve done nothing wrong, Resolute should be doing everything possible to get their certificates back, including getting consent from the Cree.”

Rainforest Alliance did not respond to our interview requests.

“When all things are said and done, we don’t have an issue with the final decision,” said Quaille. “They agreed with us and the work was really good and professional. What I would criticize is ASI’s rules for disclosure and transparency. Giving the power to those that make the mistakes to block or remove themselves from the record is unfair and it is not a transparent process.”

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