Certification - a Discussion of Equity Issues
Forest certification was initiated as a tool to promote sustainable forest management (SFM) through communicating to consumers that wood products were verified as originating from well-managed forests. It is essentially a communication tool to link "good producers" with market demand. This has remained the underlying goal, even if many of the drivers of certification have been primarily concerned about their market access. Many of the original proponents of it believed that, whilst small producers would be easily certified, it would be more challenging to bring big business on board. FSC certification was the first international forest certification scheme, and it was very much designed with communities in mind. It was implicitly expected that it would work well for and benefit community level enterprises and improve equity in the forest industry. However, only a few of the actors in certification have made improved equity an overt goal - notably, the social "chamber" members of the FSC, and some of the development assistance support to certification. The expectation that certification can address equitable sharing of powers over forests, and benefits from forest management, continues - with development agencies and NGOs often seeing certification as a tool to improve livelihoods. But the history to date of FSC in particular shows that big business has been keen to be involved in certification, and trends (see below) show them at the forefront of the application of certification. This shows the strength and success of certification as a market- based instrument (MBI), but also raises concerns about equity, in terms of who can achieve it and who can benefit from it. This paper discusses these equity issues raised by forest management certification, and their implications to all stakeholders, but with a focus on the poor, smaller producers and poorer producer countries. It aims to highlight areas for improvement - an approach consistent with the philosophy of certification itself - and considers what the limitations of certification might be as a tool to address equity and livelihoods.