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FSC directors accused of major conflict of interest compromising FSC Australia

Damian Paull chief executive FSC Australia

VicForests has launched a strong attack on FSC Australia, calling for the sacking of three Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) directors for allegedly breaching FSC standards and damaging FSC’s reputation, in a letter of complaint to the certification body’s international headquarters in Germany. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz

The directors are Sarah Rees, Chris Taylor and Peter Cooper. The Australian Forest Products Association, in a formal complaint to FSC Australia, has also urged the removal of Ms Rees and Mr Cooper from the board if an FSC investigation found their actions contravened Australian FSC’s standards and constitution.

This follows the two directors signing a letter from environmental groups to Opal/Australian Paper, upping the ante on certification. They said environmentalists no longer accept the FSC Controlled Wood standard, and urged the company’s owner, Nippon Paper Group, to only use wood with full FSC certification. VicForests is being assessed for FSC Controlled Wood certification, which is regarded as a ‘half-way house’ towards full certification.

AFPA chief executive, Ross Hampton, said the investigation of the directors was urgent as there were 120 companies with FSC Controlled Wood certificates in Australia.

“All … will no doubt now feel uncertain as to the ongoing legitimacy of those certificates in the eyes of the FSC ANZ (Australia New Zealand) board,” he said.

VicForests chief executive officer, Monique Dawson, said in the letter that FSC’s primary focus was applying its standards to native or natural forest timber harvesting. These standards were environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable forest management.

“It is therefore unacceptable that directors of FSC Australia are leading public activism and advocacy calling for the complete cessation of native forestry,” she said in her letter – seen by Daily Timber News – to International FSC Director General, Kim Carstensen. They were actively aiming also to discredit VicForests, a government agency, and the Victorian government regulatory system.

Examples cited in her letter included:

  • Ms Rees and Mr Cooper signing the open letter where they say they do not support the FSC Controlled Wood standard.
  • Numerous anti-native forest harvesting and anti-VicForests tweets and re-tweets on Ms Rees’ twitter account, including a recent statement that native forests cannot be FSC-certified.
  • Ms Rees’ re-tweeting of posts encouraging and supporting activists engaging in illegal and dangerous protest actions in harvesting coupes that risk the lives of timber harvesting workers.
  • Ms Rees’ continued role as spokesperson and director of the anti-forest harvesting group My Environment, that owes a substantial debt ($1.3 million) to VicForests for failed legal action against VicForests.
  • Numerous anti-forest harvesting articles written by Mr Taylor, including a media campaign by Mr Taylor last year that appeared to be an attempt to influence FSC auditors while they conducted fieldwork. These claims were investigated by VicForests’ Government regulator and were found to be based on out-of-date models and poor field work, and
  • Numerous anti-native forest harvesting and anti-VicForests tweets by Mr Taylor.

Ms Dawson said in her letter that VicForests did not object to FSC Australian board members taking part in the democratic process concerning Victorian forest policy. However, the activism of Ms Rees and Mr Taylor was accentuated by the fact that the majority of the FSC Australia board were employed by high profile anti-harvesting groups such as the Wilderness Society, the Australian Forests and Climate Alliance and the North East Forest Alliance.

Ms Dawson said the persistent and inappropriate activism by Ms Rees and Mr Taylor in particular constituted a real conflict of interest that compromises FSC Australia’s ability to carry out its duties independently and to maintain credibility as a timber harvesting accreditation body.

This activism was inconsistent with both “the principles of FSC Australia, risking its professional reputation and thus the reputation of FSCI”, and with eligibility for membership of FSC Australia, whose constitution requires that members “genuinely support FSC and its activities”.

“I would suggest that the actions of these three directors … not only makes them unfit as officeholders,” she said in her letter.

Ms Dawson said Mr Taylor’s appointment to fill a social chamber vacancy did not reflect his area of academic interest and stated public position and his background aligned him with the environmental chamber.

“These issues may have a significant negative impact on FSC Australia’s reputation and credibility with industry,” she said. This ‘bias’ towards the view of anti-native timber harvesting organisations and activists was openly discussed in the timber industry.

“FSC International should be very concerned about the impact of the apparent governance failures in FSC Australia on its global reputation and brand.”

Ms Dawson called for the appointment of an independent chair to the FSC Australia board to ensure the body’s constitution was adhered to.

In their letter to Australian Paper, the environment groups claimed Nippon Paper was a major driver of the crisis facing Australia’s native forest, wildlife and communities affected by catastrophic bushfires.

They urged the company to remove any non-FSC Full Forest Management native wood from its supply chains.

“Wood sources certified by Responsible Wood, Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and FSC Controlled Wood are not accepted as sustainably managed resources,” they said.

Responsible Wood standards were not endorsed by credible environmental NGOs in Australia as the scheme allowed salvage logging in national parks and areas needing to recover from fires, and logging of remaining remnants of koala habitat.

“FSC controlled Wood certification is not supported across the environment movement in Australia,” the environmentalists said. “FSC Controlled Wood should not form part of Nippon Paper Group’s transition to alternative sources of fibre supply.”

The chief executive of FSC Australia, Damian Paull, told DTN that any complaints made to FSC regarding members of the board were dealt with using the FSC dispute resolution process.

Neither FSC International nor Australian Paper had responded to requests for a comment by publication time.