I’m just back from the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) General Assembly in Seville, Spain, and my head is spinning. Held every three years, the General Assembly is an exercise in direct democracy where FSC’s members gather in support of the FSC’s noble idea to bring together social, environmental and economic interests into one system for the responsible management of the world’s forests. The General Assembly played out like a compelling novel; savvy business leaders sitting down with environmental activists, labor unionists from around the globe sharing coffee, leaders of Indigenous peoples from the tropics dialoging with FSC officials.
Everyone in this organization shares the same aim: to protect the forests of the world. Literally, the fates of millions of acres of forests around the world are at stake.
People talk and argue and talk some more. Sometimes just like in congress, when all sides are together in one room, progress can be hard to discern! Motions are debated and amended with feedback from “across the aisle.” Unlikely partnerships are formed. Votes are counted, and the future is written.
While many motions were passed in Seville, there are a few that are of critical importance to Dogwood Alliance’s work here in the Southeastern United States, revealing why the FSC matters so much. First up is Motion 84 – an omnibus motion that urged the development of an FSC Global Strategy – was voted in unopposed. The planning process will allow for all stakeholders from large pulp and paper companies to environmental advocates like Dogwood to work to set a clear forward direction for the FSC. This is critical here in the US where, thanks to growing awareness about the importance of protecting forests resulting from our campaigns, there has been tremendous growth within the FSC system with FSC certified acres reaching over four million in the US South.
Similarly, Motion 11 – on the need for an innovative approach to enabling smallholder access to the FSC – passed without opposition. This is as critical globally as it is in the US South, where our forestlands are owned by literally millions of smallholders. To give insight into what that means here at home, the average timber sale in the state of Kentucky is just 40 acres.
A big challenge for the FSC is to show how the system can bring real environmental, social and economic value to those millions of people who own our forests and want to do the right thing.
Lastly, this General Assembly marked the first with the presence of the FSC’s Permanent Indigenous People’s Committee (PIPC). The debate regarding Indigenous peoples’ rights and forestland is not one that we hear very often in the Southern US, but it’s absolutely critical across the globe.
We must acknowledge that Indigenous communities from all over the world have for years had their homes put at risk by forest exploitation, and we must play a part in righting that wrong.
The FSC, I am pleased to say, made another strong stride in that direction in passing Motion 83, which called for a new approach to certification of Indigenous groups and traditional communities, addressing challenges and creating social benefits for forest-dependent communities.
And so another FSC General Assembly has come to pass. This time, we can say Dogwood was there. We contributed and we made a difference. Now we will continue the work of protecting our forests and be thankful that we have a tool like FSC certification that helps us do the right thing.