Risky business… or is it? Risk-based approaches to forest management certification

One of the objectives of FSC’s Global Strategic Plan is to develop ‘an approach for a streamlined and outcome oriented normative framework’, taking into account ‘action-based learning’ from applying these concepts in the development of national standards.

In this context, a priority project has been created to explore risk-based approaches in national forest stewardship standards.

(© FSC UK)© FSC UKAt the recent General Assembly, FSC UK Forest Standards Manager Dr Owen Davies was asked to present suggestions on risk-based approaches drawing on standard development experience in the UK.

"One aspect of the UK Woodland Assurance Standard that particularly interested the project team was the role of national legislation in standard requirements," says Owen.

In any heavily regulated country, there may be overlaps between national legislation and the requirements of the FSC Principles and Criteria. This is already explicitly recognised in the International Generic Indicators (IGIs) which call for gap analyses between national laws and requirements relating to workers’ rights, gender equality, and health and safety.

If relevant laws are widely respected or robustly enforced, this may mean that FSC is adding very little value in these areas. The duplication of legal requirements in standards may frustrate certificate holders or make certification appear more daunting, and thus pose a barrier to certification. In addition, it may divert the energy of auditors and stakeholders away from issues which may be of greater importance in the national context.

"UKWAS currently defers to legal requirements where relevant, but compliance is still audited," says Owen. "In Vancouver I asked whether we should consider a more radical approach, such as cutting right back on auditing in these areas, or even omitting requirements from national standards altogether."

"There would obviously be a lot of issues to resolve in such an approach, but the key question for me is how we can use knowledge of the contents and enforcement of national laws to produce shorter, simpler national standards which are more focussed on issues where FSC can make a real difference in terms of responsible forest management."

Other ideas for risk-based approaches were presented from South Africa, Russia and the United States. The response from the General Assembly audience was very positive.

While risk-based approaches may bring benefits to many stakeholders in the FSC system, we hope in particular to find approaches that benefit owners of smaller woodlands. FSC members reaffirmed their support for smaller woodland owners when they passed Motion 46 on smallholder and community certification, which, in addition to risk-based approaches, mentions contractor certification and the need for pilot projects.

FSC UK warmly welcomes any initiatives which help to remove barriers to certification for smaller woodland owners, and hopes that it will be possible to field trial one or more new approaches in the UK in the near future.

To learn more about the ideas FSC is exploring for risk-based approaches, you can download the full presentation and outlines of some of the case studies from the General Assembly website.


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