As part of our series of articles exploring the FSC Principles and Criteria, we take a look at Principle 1 and how it is applied in the UK.
One of the most fundamental requirements of responsible forest management is that the manager should act within the law. The interaction between FSC certification and legislation can be very important, especially given that the rigour and enforcement of laws may vary greatly from country to country; even in countries with robust laws which are generally respected, independent auditors may find instances of non-compliance during certification assessments. The preamble to the Principles and Criteria states that:
"In terms of the law, FSC intends to complement, not supplant, other initiatives that support responsible forest management worldwide. The FSC Principles and Criteria are to be used in conjunction with international, national and local laws and regulations, though they may contain provisions that are more stringent or demanding than these laws and regulations."
The importance of lawful forest management is reflected in the fact that the first of the ten FSC Principles unequivocally requires that certificate holders ‘shall comply with all applicable laws, regulations and nationally-ratified international treaties, conventions and agreements’. Each forest stewardship standard includes a list of applicable laws, covering issues such as legal rights to harvest, taxes and fees, timber harvesting activities, third parties’ rights, trade and transport, and due diligence.
There are eight Criteria under Principle 1, dealing with the following specific aspects of legal compliance – and commitment to FSC:
1.1. Demonstrating the legal identity of the certificate holder.
1.2. Demonstrating the legal status of the forest management unit.
1.3. Demonstrating the certificate holder’s legal rights to operate in the management unit.
1.4. Taking measures to protect the management unit from unauthorised or illegal activities.
1.5. Complying with national laws, local laws, ratified international conventions and obligatory codes of practice relating to the transportation and trade of forest products.
1.6. Preventing and resolving of disputes over issues of statutory or customary law.
1.7. Making a commitment not to offer or receive bribes in money or any other form of corruption, and complying with anti-corruption legislation where this exists.
1.8. Making a long-term commitment to adhere to the FSC Principles and Criteria.
(For the full text of each Criterion, see the Principles and Criteria.)
For FSC Forest Management certificate holders, compliance with these requirements is assessed by independent certification bodies using the set of indicators adapted to national, regional or local conditions in the applicable approved forest stewardship standard.
What does this mean in the UK?
Indicators adapted to the UK context are contained in our national forest stewardship standard, familiar to most forest managers as the UK Woodland Assurance Standard, or UKWAS.
The UK scores highly in relevant Worldwide Governance Indicators; in 2018, the percentile ranks (with zero the lowest and 100 the highest) were 96.15 for regulatory quality, 91.83 for rule of law, and 93.27 for control of corruption. The UK also scores highly in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, with a 2019 score of 77 (where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean), placing the country twelfth out of the 180 countries scored, alongside Australia, Austria and Canada.
As noted previously, overarching factors like good regulation and generally low levels of corruption do not mean that the issues covered by Principle 1 can be ignored, as failings might still be detected during audits. But they do steer us towards proportionate requirements in our national standard which reflect the likely level of risk of non-compliance.
Most of the issues covered by Principle 1 are relatively uncontroversial in the UK context, and indicators are accordingly straightforward. Under Criteria 1.1 and 1.2, for example, are the following simple requirements:
- 1.1.1 The legal identity of the owner/manager shall be documented. [UKWAS 1.1.3(a)]
- 1.1.2 Legal authority to carry out specific operations, where required by the relevant authorities, shall be documented. [UKWAS 1.1.3(d)]
- 1.2.1 The boundaries of the owner’s/manager’s legal ownership or tenure shall be documented. [UKWAS 1.1.3(b)]
As the UK has anti-corruption legislation, most importantly the Bribery Act 2010, which allows organisations to adopt procedures which are proportionate to the level of risk of corruption, indicators under Criterion 1.7 reference national legislation as follows:
- 1.7.1 There shall be conformance to guidance on anti-corruption legislation. [UKWAS 1.1.6(a)]
- 1.7.2 Large enterprises shall have and implement a publicly available anti-corruption policy which meets or exceeds the requirements of legislation. [UKWAS 1.1.6(b)]
Where necessary, indicators reference specific issues such as the need to respect phytosanitary requirements, for example when handling larch infected with Phytophthora ramorum:
- 1.5.1 There shall be compliance with legislation relating to the transportation and trade of forest products, including, where relevant, the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and phytosanitary requirements. [UKWAS 1.1.7]
Responsible forest managers often go beyond minimum legal requirements, of course. Recognising this, and the body of the best practice guidance which has been built up by the UK forestry sector, the national standard:
- 1.3.4 There shall be conformance to the spirit of any relevant codes of practice or good practice guidelines. [UKWAS 1.1.2]
While some of this might seem excessive in a heavily regulated country, there can be benefits; smaller certificate holders in particular can find it helpful to be reminded of published best practice and recognised forest management guidelines.
Have your say
Are these requirements pitched at the right level? Is the risk of legal non-compliance so low in the UK that these indicators are unnecessarily onerous? Or do they miss some key legal issues?
With the review and revision of the UK national forest stewardship standard on the horizon, you will soon have the chance to make your views known. We would encourage you to keep reading these articles and to take the opportunity to participate in public consultations on the standard in due course.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about FSC’s forest management requirements in the UK, feel free to get in touch with Forest Standards Manager Dr Owen Davies (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Forestry Outreach Manager Amy Willox (email@example.com).