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FSC Core Labor Requirements

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.

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 (CB) plan to take:

What should I expect during my audit? CBs will focus their efforts on the information provided in your self-assessment. They will be looking to ensure that you have the required policy(ies) and that it is available to stakeholders (e.g., via website or at a minimum, upon request).They will also look at the process(es)/procedure(s) that you have described in your self-assessment (or provided with it) for how you will uphold the policy(ies) to evaluate their adequacy for this purpose. If the CB finds that either of these are lacking in the self-assessment, or if they have other information suggesting that the policy(ies) is not being upheld (e.g., through direct observation or other information received during an audit, 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 (eg: employee records and/or salary records), interviews with workers, etc. If the CB determines that a more thorough evaluation of evidence is needed, but you are unable to provide it during your audit, this may result in a corrective action request(s).

In myself-assessment, can I just provide links to my publicly available policy(ies) that addresses the FSC Core Labor Requirements 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 CB 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? Similar to multi-site CoC certificate holders, the Central Office (i.e., group managers), at minimum, needs 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, the Central Office needs to ensure that members sampled during the audit have completed self-assessments available to the CB. 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 is required to have 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 CB would need to review the applicable agreement(s)to ensure that this had been accomplished. If the CB has any evidence (from stakeholders, observations, or other audit information, inadequate documentation, etc.) that outsourcing companies are not in conformance, the certificate holder and/or outsourcing company would need to provide the CB with additional evidence to demonstrate conformance with the FSC 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.

Please contact FSC US (info@us.fsc.org) with questions that are not addressed by the above resources.