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NAFA: Are All Forest Certification Systems Equal?

Press Release


Forest certification is a private, non-governmental, market-based mechanism voluntarily adopted by a forest company and audited by an independent third party against a set of forest management standards. Certification to these standards results in the company receiving an eco-label that is used on its products to indicate to consumers that the product they are purchasing was harvested from a sustainably managed forest.

Aboriginal1 peoples in Canada are engaging in the growing and rapidly changing global forest industry. Forest certification is a tool that has helped and, for some, hindered this engagement (Collier et al. 2002). Why should Indigenous communities pay attention to forest certification? And why should they critically evaluate the certification systems in use on their traditional territories?

Indigenous communities have various reasons for engaging with certification systems, whether it be as land users and rights holders, as governments or as business owners. Through land use, Indigenous peoples exercise their rights (Aboriginal and treaty rights) based on historic land use and occupancy. As land users, Indigenous peoples are concerned about access and protection of sites of cultural significance, including hunting and fishing grounds, food gathering places and sacred sites. As Indigenous governments, communities enter into negotiations and government-to- government agreements to protect their rights through sustainable resource management. They pursue economic development, negotiate with companies and enter into treaties, protocols and co-management agreements with other governments. Indigenous business owners and contractors are interested in gaining access to markets, developing new markets for value-added forest products, carrying out sustainable forest management operations and maintaining accountability within their communities.

This discussion paper, written with the interests of Indigenous forest businesses and the rights of Indigenous peoples in mind, provides a closer look at the evolution of two forest certification systems—the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)2—focusing on their relationships with Indigenous peoples. Why? Because forest certification is becoming increasingly significant in both the marketplace and government policy, and Indigenous peoples must determine for themselves the most appropriate certification system for their needs. The aim of this paper is to encourage all potential and existing Indigenous participants in forest management to critically evaluate these systems and to suggest ways to improve each system’s response to Indigenous rights and interests.

The information presented in this paper is not original research. In other words, no new interviews were conducted or primary data collected. The authors have gathered publicly available documents from each certification system, including documented perspectives shared during numerous Indigenous forestry conferences and meetings hosted by the National Aboriginal Forestry Association (NAFA) focused on forest certification. This paper does not represent an exhaustive search, nor does it claim to represent the points of view of all Indigenous people involved in or considering involvement in forest certification.

Several criteria of importance to Indigenous peoples will be explored comparing FSC and SFI.

These criteria are:

  • History of Indigenous engagement: How has each certification system involved Indigenous peoples and how has their engagement evolved over time?
  • Recognition of Indigenous rights: Do the certification standards acknowledge Indigenous rights and provide adequate guidance for how to protect those rights in forest management?
  • Institutional capital: Are the mechanisms for engagement of Indigenous Peoples effective?
  • Audit effectiveness: Do the certification system’s audits provide for an adequate assessment of meeting Indigenous involvement requirements in the standard? Are the audits transparent? Is there an effective dispute resolution process when Indigenous peoples feel a certificate holder has not effectively addressed the standards?
  • Cost of certification: Is the cost of certifying a barrier to the certification of Indigenous-owned forestry businesses? Are there mechanisms available to Indigenous forest companies who may not be able to afford certification?

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