Opinion & Analysis
Enhancing the lives of forest communities requires respect, engagement and proactivity says Director General Kim Carstensen
It’s clear that many people still see forests as something to do with the environment only: it’s green, it’s full of trees, and it helps in regulating the climate. But, in the same way, forests are very important to the social arena and are a vital development resource for developing countries. For the businesses that rely on forest resources, this presents a unique opportunity to lead the way: to partner with communities and influence change in a way that governments aren’t always able to do.
Hundreds of millions of people live and work in and around the forests across the world – and many of them depend on forests in a very direct way. Improving their lives is one of our most important jobs, and something we, and FSC-certified businesses, pride ourselves on.
From working conditions to social infrastructure, a study from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) revealed that forest operations managed to FSC standards provide clear benefits to communities. In fact, it was concluded FSC certification had resulted in “remarkable social progress” for those living and working in FSC-certified logging operations in the Congo Basin.
Safety first: ensuring workers’ rights
We’re great believers in forests’ potential to provide benefits and protection to local communities, indigenous groups and workers – if they have the right systems in place. One of my strongest memories of this in action was witnessing FSC-certified operations in South Africa; the enormous effort the businesses there put into health and safety regulations, and the enormous pride of the workers, who understood the rules and used modern health and safety equipment. And not only were the employees well protected, importantly, they were earning a living wage for their families. Conditions which require dealing with pest management are not necessarily routine in a developing country.
We have to remember that forest operations can be a dangerous thing – trees are big, heavy things to manage, and many things can go wrong if you’re not well protected, or if you are using pesticides in the wrong way. That’s why workers’ health and safety have always been an explicit part of FSC standards and certification. What’s more, it’s crucial that businesses operating under FSC standards actually help communities get a real say over their own lives and their living conditions.
To strengthen this, we’re currently developing our rules around how we work with local communities – it’s known as Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC, for short).
The system ensures communities are consulted, respected and engaged in the forest management and logging processes; that traditions, culture and sacred land are all respected.
With social issues like these being such an important aspect of what we do, to me it seems the ideal time for our In Good Company 2015 (IGC) conference to be hosted in Durban in South Africa this year. This is the first time we’re holding IGC on the African continent, and it’s an event that brings all our certificate holders together to discuss the benefits of FSC certification in an African context (just before the World Forestry Congress, too).
The consumer guarantee of social surety
The entire cycle of being socially responsible, not least in an African context where poverty is so widespread, gives an important level of certainty for consumers. It’s not enough for businesses to avoid damaging the local communities with whom they work. On the contrary, businesses need to proactively engage communities, respect their views and interests, and provide benefits to them in terms of salaries, and health and security in the workplace. That way, consumers can guarantee products have indeed been produced in good company.