FSC teak certification suspended

Down to Earth No 51 November 2001

A decision to suspend the certification of teak plantations in Java has highlighted major problems with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) eco-labelling scheme in Indonesia.

In August, the FSC-accredited certifier, Smartwood - a programme of the US-based Rainforest Alliance - announced its decision to suspend the certificates of four of five plantations managed by PT Perhutani: Cepu, Kebonharjo and Kendal in Central Java and Madiun in East Java. In total, five teak and one pine plantation had been certified by Smartwood. In 2000, one of the certified teak forests - Mantingan - was suspended. The decision means that no FSC certified teak will be available from Indonesia as long as the suspension is in force.

Smartwood said the suspension - effective October 20th - was based on the "noncompliance of the certification conditions based on the FSC principles and criteria as well as the Smartwood standards." Smartwood also said it believed that "the long-term sustainability of the plantation resources is at a serious risk." Perhutani has been blamed for failing to crack down on illegal logging and for not making enough effort to reduce conflict with local people, according to the Jakarta Post.

Timber certification, or eco-labelling, has been promoted as one way of forcing the pace of reform in countries where government policies do not protect forests. Certification of forests in Indonesia under the FSC - the organisation whose eco-label is most widely accepted by consumers in Europe and the USA - has drawn criticism since 1998, when the first three Perhutani teak plantations were certified. NGOs have pointed to cases of unresolved disputes between Perhutani and local communities, violent confrontations and corruption within Perhutani, which makes certification of its plantations totally inappropriate. Many of the disputes with local communities - some of which date back to colonial days - originate from Perhutani's takeover of village common lands. There has been a series of 'land reclaiming' actions in Java and elsewhere as communities attempt to reassert their rights to this land. 
(See DTE 48 for an example of this kind of conflict).

In April this year, the first FSC certification was issued for a natural forest timber concession - PT Diamond Raya's 51,000 ha concession in Riau, Sumatra. Certification was awarded despite concerns raised by NGOs that the FSC's own principles on indigenous peoples' rights were being violated. WALHI is demanding that all certification is suspended until the whole concession system has been revised and the borders of indigenous peoples' lands clearly defined.

The suspension of Perhutani's remaining four teak plantations means that the only FSC certified forest remaining on Java is the Lawu pine plantation in East Java. The four plantations represent around 5% of the total 2 million hectares of forest plantations managed by Perhutani in 54 forest management districts.

The decision will have a serious impact on the 36 garden furniture-makers with FSC chain-of-custody certification which rely on the Perhutani plantations for their supplies of teak. Smartwood says it is working to link these operations with teak suppliers in Latin America, Trinidad, Ghana and India to fill the supply gap.

Perhutani has played down the significance of the suspension, telling journalists that there had been a misunderstanding with Smartwood over what was meant by sustainable forest management. If Smartwood did not maintain its certification, said Perhutani President Martono, "we can look for other certification bodies."

(Source: Smartwood press release 21/Aug/01 www.smartwood.org/new/perhutani.htmlJakarta Post 3/Sep/01; Kompas 25/Aug/01)

Also see DTE and Rainforest Foundation's Briefing Certification in Indonesia, June 2001.