While the protection of workers’ rights has always been part of FSC’s principles and mandatory for forest management certificate holders, the new FSC Core Labor Requirements have now also been included in the FSC Chain of Custody standard (FSC-STD-40-004-v3-1).
One goal of the FSC Core Labor Requirements is to level the playing field for companies across the FSC system. While the United States has a strong set of labor protections, many countries do not. The new standard will raise the bar for companies in countries without strong protections. This change, which was supported by the FSC Membership, is an important part of sustainable development.
FSC certificate holders must demonstrate conformance to the FSC Core Labor Requirements, which cover the abolition of child labor, elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor, elimination of discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, upholding freedom of association, and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
COC Certificate holders must be able to demonstrate (to external third-party auditors) that they are implementing the new requirements in their operations, including:
- Adopting policy statement(s) that encompass the FSC core labor requirements
- Implementing these requirements in their operations
- Describing this implementation, and identifying evidence of implementation, in self-assessments (which are verified by auditors)
Because federal laws in the United States cover the FSC Core Labor Requirements, companies complying with US laws are considered low risk for non-conformance with the FSC Core Labor Requirements. This is a key outcome of a calibration meeting FSC US held in August 2021 with Certification Bodies (CB) in the US. CBs in the US plan to use a risk-based approach when assessing US Certificate Holders to the FSC Core Labor Requirements. Unless there is evidence that a company is not complying with US laws, US certificate holders will experience a reduced level of required effort (compared to companies in countries with less worker protection) for both: a) providing evidence that demonstrates conformance, and b) auditing. More information is included in the US-specific self-assessment.
The transition period for the new version of the FSC Chain of Custody Standard (FSC-STD-40-004-v3-1) begins September 1, 2021. Both versions of the standard are valid during the transition period, but all certificate holders must be audited to the new standard by December 31, 2022.
Resources for COC Certificate Holders
FSC US and other FSC Network Partners are finalizing country/region-specific self-assessments, which are intended to point certificate holders to information that will help them to demonstrate conformance.
- US-specific self-assessment
- Other country-specific self-assessments are available in a *zip file on the FSC International Chain of Custody webpage (look for downloads at the bottom of the web page).
Additional resources available from FSC International on their Chain of Custody web page (look for download and viewing options at the bottom of the web page):
- Recordings of FSC International webinars.
- FSC Core Labor Requirements Q&A document. This set of Q&A will be supplemented with additional questions and answers over time.
The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are provided within the above context, regarding the risk-based approach that US Certification Bodies plan to take:
What should I expect during my audit? Auditors will focus their efforts on the information provided in your self-assessment. They will be looking to ensure that you have the required policies and that they are publicly available. They will also be looking to ensure that the process(es)/procedure(s) that you have described in your self-assessment (or provided with it) for upholding these policies are adequate. If the auditor finds that either of these are lacking in the self-assessment, or if they have other information suggesting that the policies are not being upheld (e.g., through direct observation, through potential stakeholder input), then the auditor will have to complete a more thorough evaluation of evidence to determine conformance with the FSC Core Labor Requirements– this could include additional documentation review, interviews with workers, etc.
In my self-assessment, can I just provide links to my publicly available policies and be done? No, unless the policy itself describes the process(es)/procedure(s) that you have in place to ensure that the intent of the policy is being upheld. Otherwise, it is necessary to describe the process(es)/procedure(s) in the self-assessment or provide the actual procedure to your auditor with your self-assessment.
What do Group CoC Certificate Holders need to have in place in order to demonstrate conformance with the FSC Core Labor Requirements? Group managers, at minimum, need to ensure that all of the group members sign a declaration saying they meet the FSC Core Labor Requirements by the date of the first audit to the new standard. For any audit during the transition period, group managers need to ensure that members sampled during the audit have completed self-assessments available to the Certification Body. All group members must have their self-assessment completed by 31 December 2022 (the end of the transition period).
Do Sole Proprietors need to complete an FSC Core Labor Requirements Self-Assessment? Yes. However, as sole proprietors do not have any employees, and therefore have no need for policies and/or systems related to workers, they only need to indicate on their self-assessment their status as a sole proprietor.
Do all contractors and subcontractors to FSC Certificate Holders need to conform with the FSC Core Labor Requirements? No. Only if a Certificate Holder has an Outsourcing Agreement with a contractor, does the contractor need to conform with the FSC Core Labor Requirements. This could be demonstrated by a declaration in the signed outsourcing agreement, or another separate agreement, which states that the Outsourcing company understands and agrees to follow the FSC Core Labor Requirements. During audits, the Certification Body (CB) would need to review outsourcing agreements to ensure that this had been done. If the CB has any evidence (from stakeholders, observations, inadequate documentation, etc.) that Outsourcing companies are not in conformance, the CH and/or Outsourcing company would need to provide the CB with additional evidence to demonstrate conformance with the Core Labor Requirements. In which case, the CB would be expected to spend additional time reviewing that evidence, conducting interviews with workers, or other activities deemed appropriate.
What do multi-site CoC Certificate Holders need to have inplace in order to demonstrate conformance with the FSC Core Labor Requirements for the sites within the scope of their certificate? Similar to group CoC certificate holders, the Central Office, at a minimum, needs to ensure that all sites signa declaration saying they meet the FSC Core Labor Requirements by the date of the first audit to the new standard. For any audit during the transition period, the Central Office needs to ensure that sites sampled during the audit have completed self-assessments available to the CB. All sites must have their self-assessment completed by 31 December 2022 (the end of the transition period).
Do the FSC Core Labor Requirements mean that my organization has to encourage and support unions? No. It means that you may not take any steps to impede your workers' legal rights under US law to form a union, but it does not require your organization to be "pro-union."
How do we deal with state and federal ‘Right to Work’ laws in the US? ‘Right to work’ laws in the US make it unlawful to include a union security clause in a collective bargaining agreement. A union security clause requires that all employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement become members of the union and pay union dues as a condition of continued employment. A union with a valid union security clause in their contract can insist that an employer terminate the employment of an individual who does not become a member of the union.
‘Right to work’ laws do not allow unions to force employees to pay union dues. ‘Right to work’ laws promote the basic principles of freedom of association because workers can choose to become a member of a union if they wish to do so, or they can choose not to become a member of the union.
Are there any more federal laws that describe “Right to Work” and freedom of association in the US? Additional information can be found in the US Code of Federal Regulations cited throughout Annex A of the US Self-Assessment. Also, the National Labor Relations Act, cited in #14 of Sources of Information, can be found at the National Labor Relations Board website at https://www.nlrb.gov/guidance/key-reference-materi […].
[The following examples are provided to assist in compliance with the FSC Chain of Custody Standard and their use is voluntary. The examples should be treated as suggestions and will need to be modified to fit the certificate holder’s specific context. The creation of the examples is to provide a tool to certificate holders and certification bodies to help better understand requirement expectations. However, their use does not guarantee conformance with FSC Chain of Custody requirements.]
How can we incorporate an amendment/annex to our existing Outsourcing Agreement that addresses the Core Labour Requirement? An example could be the following: By signing this document, we acknowledge that we conform to Section 7 FSC Core Labour Requirements identified in FSC-STD-40-004 V3-1 and adopted the FSC Certified Organization’s policy statement (included below). We acknowledge that we might need to provide evidence of our conformance to the FSC Certified Organization contracting our services and could potentially be subject to the Organization’s FSC audit. False statements, failure to provide information if required, or other nonconformance could result in termination of our Outsourcing Agreement.
Printed name and title:
[Insert Certificate Holders Policy Statement]
What are some additional examples of Policy Statements for the Core Labour Requirements? Our organization does not tolerate use of child labor, forced or compulsory labor or discrimination in employment and occupation. We respect and comply with US Law as it relates to these issues, and as it relates to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
[Company name] does not use child labor or forced or compulsory labor. We respect and comply with US Laws concerning discrimination in employment and occupation, freedom of association and rights to collective bargaining.
[Company name] respects and complies with local, state, and federal law concerning use of child labor, forced or compulsory labor or discrimination in employment and occupation, the freedom of association and right to collective bargaining. Note: If identifying compliance to local and state law (which may be more protective than federal law), relevant local and state laws would need to be included in the self-assessment.
Please contact FSC US (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions that are not addressed by the above resources.