Friday, 26 September 2014
Debrief of FSC General Assembly 2014

September 26, 2014

From September 7 – 14, 2014, the Forest Stewardship Council convened its seventh triennial General Assembly in Seville, Spain. With more than 600 members represented from around the world, including a sizable contingent from the United States, the General Assembly is FSC’s top decision-making body. It is also unique to FSC and central to its credibility, with diverse stakeholders debating and pursuing consensus between economic, social and environmental interests.  A detailed summary of the General Assembly is available online, including the motions passed by the membership, but some highlights of the week include the following: 

  • The week started with a daylong strategic planning session, led by FSC International with support from Sally Uren at Forum for the Future. The strategic plan, which will be developed over the next six months, will guide FSC’s continued growth and development for the next five years. Hearing from stakeholders at theGeneral Assembly was a valuable opportunity to shape the direction and priorities of the organization. In a related motion, the FSC Members gave near-unanimous support for refining FSC’s strategy, as Rod Taylor, Director of WWF’s Global Forest Program notes in his blog post
  • At the opening dinner, participants were greeted by a video from HRH Prince Charles, who happens to own an FSC-certified forest. “Forests are not just places of outstanding natural beauty and value, or the source of a light, strong, durable and renewable building material, and of paper and many medicines. Nor are they simply a treasure trove of biodiversity and a home for indigenous peoples. They provide absolutely essential ecosystem services for the whole of humanity. They store carbon, clean our air and water, cycle nutrients, and generate global weather systems,” Prince Charles noted. 
  • A record total of 96 motions were proposed by FSC members leading up to the 2014 General Assembly. All 96 were considered and prioritized at chamber meetings during the first days of the GA. By the time voting began, 64 of those motions were either pulled from consideration by their sponsors or merged into other motions addressing similar issues. Of the remaining 32 motions that reached the floor of the GA, 19 passed and 13 were rejected.
  • Greenpeace is not known for subtlety, and Motion 65 to protect Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs) was clearly its highest priority. From custom-labeled soft drinks at the cocktail reception to leaves raining down on members during lunch, Greenpeace worked tirelessly to promote IFLs at the General Assembly. In addition to the theatre, they also met with a wide array of members to build support for the motion, demonstrating how to successfully move a motion at the General Assembly. Motion 65 passed with strong support from all three chambers, a testament to the hard work and willingness to compromise demonstrated by its sponsor. Going forward, FSC will add protections for IFLs to its world-leading forest management standards.
  • As part of FSC’s prohibition of forest conversion, companies cannot earn certification for plantations on lands cleared after 1994, the year FSC was founded. While the intent of this prohibition is to remove any market incentive for converting natural forests to plantations. However, an unintended consequence has been to make FSC less relevant in some rapidly developing parts of the world, notably Indonesia. As a result, Motion 12 – which was adopted by the membership – was designed to address these unintended outcomes, looking for ways to maintain disincentives for forest conversion, while also creating opportunities for FSC to help protect forests and promote conservation in developing parts of the world.
  • One of the more contentious motions (Motion 35) would have required all FSC-certified companies to comply with International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions as defined only by ILO jurisprudence. Although nearly all members agreed on the importance of workers rights and the principles established by the ILO conventions, they could not reach consensus on the appropriate way to ensure FSC-certified companies comply with the ILO Conventions. As a result, the motion did not pass. While most members felt the issues raised in the motion were important, others believed that an existing chamber-balanced working group – operating with support from international labor lawyers – was amore appropriate way to address such a complex issue. While the motion did not pass, the FSC Director General Kim Carstensen, along with the Board of Directors, received a clear message that the working group is critically important and must address the issue in a timely manner. 
  • Diverse membership is one of the core strengths of FSC, setting it apart from other forest certification systems. Yet with a variety of working groups, policy revisions, boards and panels underway at any one time, it can be time consuming to engage deeply in the FSC system. Motion 42 will require FSC to undergo a review of governance procedures, with the goal of streamlining processes and ensuring quality outcomes, while still maintaining the credibility of a chamber-balanced, member-led system. 

For more information about the motions passed, plus analysis of the General Assembly, visit