Problems with companies working in the forests

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Problems with companies working in the forests

Nearly 25 years ago, a few environmental NGOs and timber companies had a new green idea. Why not set up an organization for sustainable cutting of forests? It was a good idea but does it work? Chris Lang reports.


Ugandan cattle herder Lawrence Kamonyo and his wife with rows of pine trees planted by the German company Global Woods. The The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies the wood but Lawrence Kamonyo lost his land and his house. © Susan Götze

A group of environmental NGOs and timber companies started The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1993. The plan was for green management of the world’s forests. The FSC has certified more than 187 million hectares of forests and tree plantations. People buy FSC wood and believe it is good for forests. But is this really true?

In 2002, I looked at FSC certification of two tree plantations run by the Forest Industry Organization (FIO) in Thailand. This was part of a report by the UK Rainforest Foundation on how well the FSC was doing. The FIO stopped its certification but the FSC did not look at the real problems.

More than 10 years later, those problems are still there. One problem is that certification is voluntary. Another problem is that the FSC certifies tree plantations and logging in primary forests, but does not think about the effects on local communities and the environment.

But the real problem is the FSC uses other organisations to certify forestry companies and the forestry companies pay these organisations.

Simon Counsell is head of Rainforest Foundation UK and helped to start FSC. He says, ‘There are too many examples of illegal timber coming through the FSC. We cannot be sure that FSC certification means that the forestry is legal or sustainable. It helps companies to sell timber and does not protect forests.’

Since 2006, Simon and I have run FSC-Watch. It is a website showing what is wrong with the FSC. We’ve found many examples of serious problems with the certification.

Here are two examples.

Uganda: German pine trees

For the past 14 years, a German company, Global Woods, has planted pine trees in the Kikonda Forest Reserve. It is 200 kilometres northwest of Kampala. The company says the plantation makes ‘sustainable timber’. The FSC has certified the company since 2012. But local farmers were forced to make way for the plantation and cattle herders lost their land. The Kikonda Forest Reserve is state land and Global Woods has a 50-year lease to plant on more than 12,000 hectares.

Göran Eklöf is from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. In September 2012, he visited the Kikonda Forest Reserve and found serious problems between local communities and Global Woods. Problems included arrests of people, taking cattle which went into the reserve, and corruption.

Susanne Götze is a German journalist. In December 2015, she found that the problems were still there. Herders say that herbicide is killing their cattle. But Global Woods manager Matthias Baldus says it is not true. He told Götze there is no connection between the herbicide and the dead cattle.

SGS Qualifor is the certifying company for Global Woods. They support the company. SGS Qualifo explains that the Kikonda Central Forest was made a ‘forest reserve’ in 1968 and that Ugandan law says no-one can live or farm in a forest reserve.

Dictator Idi Amin took power in 1971. He wanted trees cleared from forests so his opponents could not go back to the forests. In 1975, he said Ugandans can buy land anywhere, including forest land. And so a lot of people moved inside the country.

But the local farmers and herders say SGS Qualifor are ‘migrants’ who did illegal activity including farming, charcoal burning, and feeding cattle. They are very clear that there are no rights to use the land because it is a Forest Reserve.

Lawrence Kamonyo is a cattle herder. He says Global Woods are ‘rich white people doing business’. But Lawrence Kamonyo was living where Global Woods decided to plant its pine trees. They took his house and arrested him. They burned his house and beat his children.

Brazil: selling illegal wood

In December 2015, FSC took away certification from Brazil’s biggest forestry company, Jari Florestal. Since 2004 SCS Global Services in California had certified the company’s 715,000 hectares.

They took away the certification after an investigation by Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry, the Federal Police, the Brazilian Institute of Environment (IBAMA), and the Federal Justice department. Jari Florestal is suspected of fraud and selling illegal timber. Brazilian authorities say it involves 9,000 cubic metres of timber: about 220 truckloads. Between December 2014 and February 2015, more than $7-million of timber was taken from one of the illegal forest areas.

A company with certification can cut an agreed amount of timber. The timber is given a number. Cutting illegal timber involves using the number from a legal forest area.


The rules for the pine plantation in Uganda, certified by the FSC.

The numbers on Jari Florestal’s timber showed that the timber came from a legal forest area 500 kilometres away. There is no road between the forest area and Jari Florestal’s timber yard but the timber arrived in less than two days. This is impossible and shows that the timber was illegal.

SCS looked at Jari Florestal in November 2013 and then they certified the company again in July 2014. They asked Jari Forestal to do a number of things to stay certified. Jari Forestal did not do them. SCS didn’t look further. That was for the Brazilian authorities.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised about the situation in Uganda and Brazil. When the timber companies pay the certifying companies, there are good reasons why the certifying companies give the certificates and just hope for the best.

Chris Lang is a forest activist and blogger. He runs the websites FSC-watch ( and REDD-monitor (


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).