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FSC HQ threatens to deregister Australian FSC

Damian Paull

FSC Australia is under pressure over governance issues, with FSC headquarters in Germany believed to have threatened to deregister the Australian branch or appoint an administrator if the local certification body does not get its act together. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz

The warning came at last month’s FSC Australia annual general meeting. It is believed FSC Australia must show by mid-September that its governance is in order.

One indicator of poor governance is staff turnover; FSC Australia has had six chief executives in the past 10 years.

The chief executive of FSC Australia, Damian Paull, declined to comment on the outcome of the AGM. The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA), which belongs to the local FSC economics chamber, brought a critical motion to the AGM, but also declined to comment.

This follows strong attacks on FSC Australia by both VicForests and AFPA in the lead-up to the AGM. In a letter to German headquarters, VicForests called for the sacking of three FSC directors for allegedly breaching FSC standards and damaging FSC’s reputation.

The directors were Sarah Rees from My Environment, ANU academic Chris Taylor and Peter Cooper from the Wilderness Society. Dr Taylor subsequently resigned at the AGM.

This follows Ms Rees and Mr Cooper signing a letter from environmental groups to Opal/Australian Paper. 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, which is already certified by PEFC, the world’s largest certification scheme, is being assessed for FSC Controlled Wood certification, which is regarded as a ‘half-way house’ towards full FSC certification.

AFPA chief executive, Ross Hampton, said before the AGM that the investigation of the directors was urgent as there were 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 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 to International FSC Director General, Kim Carstensen. They were actively aiming also to discredit VicForests, a government agency, and the Victorian government regulatory system.

Ms Dawson said Ms Rees, Mr Cooper and Dr Taylor had repeatedly attacked native forest harvesting, while Ms Rees also encouraged illegal protests in harvesting coupes, risking the lives of timber workers. Her group, My Environment, also owed VicForests $1.3 million.

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 board members’ persistent and inappropriate activism 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,” she said.