Social impacts of the Forest Stewardship Council certification - An assessment in the Congo basin.
Since the first half of the 1990s, forest certification has been promoted as a means to tackle global deforestation and forest degradation. Among the existing initiatives, the voluntary, market- based, third-party certification system offered by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the most prominent in terms of global share for the certification of responsible forest management in the tropics. FSC certification has been promoted by environmental and social groups, and more recently also by businesses and governments. The FSC scheme assesses companies and forest management units (FMUs) against a set of principles, criteria and indicators by checking that management is environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable. Although the FSC standard has a strong social component that seeks to improve relationships between logging companies and local populations and contribute significantly to local development, social impacts are under-researched, and the existing literature shows conflicting results. In particular, in the Congo basin, the focus of this occasional paper, there is a limited number of assessments of the social impacts of forest certification and its expected impact on the local population and their customary rights. Such rights are also guaranteed, with some restrictions, by existing statutory provisions in all Congo basin countries. More robust evaluations have not yet been possible because of the very recent history of FSC certification in the region: The first currently valid certificate in the region was only granted at the end of 2005. As of 2013, however, the Congo basin had the largest area of certified natural tropical forest in the world, with about 5.3 million ha. This is still a relatively small proportion (ca. 7–13%) of all FMUs in the region. We believe it is time, before certification expands further, to assess whether the social impacts in certified FMUs show any sign of improvement compared to noncertified ones. This comparison is also timely because (1) the legal frameworks of the study countries have many similarities to the social requirements of FSC certification, thus allowing an indirect assessment of the legal frameworks' social impacts, and (2) some tropical producer countries recently proposed recognizing FSC-certified timber as compliant with the requirements of the EU's Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. Once the Action Plan is fully operational in those countries, the FSC- certified timber produced there could be exported as legal timber. This occasional paper assesses whether the implementation of FSC certification in FMUs in three Congo basin countries has had positive additional impacts on (1) the working and living conditions of logging companies' employees and their families, (2) the effectiveness and legitimacy of the institutions set up to regulate relationships between logging companies and neighbouring communities, and (3) the local populations' rights to and customary uses of forests.