The Rainforest Alliance (RA) announced this week it has lifted the suspension of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificate of Swedwood Karelia LLC, a subsidiary of IKEA, following an independent appeals committee evaluation of the company’s 2013 annual audit.
Swedwood’s certificate, related to nearly 300,000 hectares (700,000 acres) in the Karelia Forest in northwestern Russia, was recently suspended as a result of a series of non-conformances with the FSC standards identified during Swedwood’s last annual audit. Karelia is one of the last remaining old-growth forests in Europe.
FSC certification rules require suspension when five or more major non-conformances are identified during an audit process. Swedwood’s certificate was suspended in January after six major non-conformances were identified following the annual audit conducted by RA, the world's leading FSC Forest Management certifier, in October 2013. As RA explains — in the FSC certification system, major non-conformances are issues that are systemic and occur over a long period of time, or those that cover a wide area and/or cause significant damage, whereas minor non-conformances are issues that indicate a temporary lapse, are unusual/non-systematic, or the impacts of which are limited in their temporal and spatial scale.
The six major non-conformances were related to facilities and equipment issues, forestry management and the training of forestry workers. Swedwood filed an appeal of the suspension arguing that four of the six non-conformances should have been graded as minor rather than major and that two of the six major non-conformances were not justified.
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RA appointed an independent appeals committee to investigate whether the grading of the non-conformances was in line with FSC standards, which downgraded one of the six major non-conformances to minor and the withdrawal of two other major non-conformances.
“The strength of the FSC system results from the various checks and balances, and therefore the scrutiny, it provides to forest management the world over,” said Richard Donovan, Rainforest Alliance SVP and VP of Forestry. “In this case the right balance has now been struck and the certificate holder is working to improve its forestry practices.”
IKEA is one of the biggest purchasers and producers of FSC-certified wood in the retail sector; Swedwood was the first company to be FSC certified in Karelia in 2006 and is annually inspected for compliance with the FSC standard.
“We are pleased to get the suspension of our FSC certificate withdrawn since it is important for us to demonstrate a responsible forest management. Our focus is now to continue our work with good forest management and make sure that the outstanding deviations are closed,” says Anders Hildeman, Forestry Manager at IKEA Group. “We continue to stand firmly behind the FSC principles. We believe it is the most credible forest certification system available as its foundation is to strike a balance between economically viable forest management, safeguarding environmental values and the rights and needs of people who work and live in the forests.”
In July, paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) withdrew from the FSC, which Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and WWF claimed was an attempt to dodge an independent inquiry into the paper company’s deforestation practices in Indonesia. Prior to APRIL’s withdrawal, the three NGOs had lodged a complaint that the company was in violation of FSC’s Policy for Association through its continued large-scale conversion of natural forests in Indonesia to plantations, including the destruction of high conservation value (HCV) forests. Fast-forward to January, when APRIL re-emerged with a Sustainable Forest Management Policy — WWF noted that the company's commitment to support conservation areas equal in size to its plantations sets a new standard for the pulp and paper industry in Indonesia, but but the NGO was concerned about certain loopholes in the policy, which Greenpeace said was "essentially a license to continue forest clearance."