A warm thank you to Bu Meti and her team at Ekonomi Sumberdayaalam dan Lingkungan (ESL) at IPB University for the opportunity to give a guest lecture on certification and conservation in natural resource management (PDF available here).
In late 1990, the Smartwood Programme (Smartwood) of the Rainforest Alliance was the first forestry certification initiative to award a certificate in Indonesia. The leading local organization, the Indonesian Ecolabelling Institute (Lembaga Ekolabel Indonesia or LEI) emerged more or less parallel to the FSC. Ever since, FSC and LEI have engaged in a slow waltz toward mutual recognition. Today – two decades later – about half a dozen separate initiatives are active in Indonesia. in addition, forestry certification catalyzed new approaches and initiatives to improve forestry, including stepwise certification (Nussbaum and Simula 2005; White and Sharshar 2006), timber legality verification (Anonymous 2004; Van der Pol, Wit and Savenije 2005; TFF and Form 2004), and High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs; see Jennings et al. 2003; Daryatun et al. 2002). This proliferation of initiatives indicates a serious and diverse interest in the business of forestry certification.
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“It seems that Indonesia’s forest policies are working,” said Mikaela Weisse, manager of the Global Forest Watch program. But the country will face a new test this year, Ms. Weisse said, as El Niño conditions may bring more warmth and dryness, increasing the risk of forest fires.
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In truth, all large-scale agriculture causes loss of natural habitats, whether it’s rice, wheat, coffee, tea, strawberries, cacao or, yes, palm oil. The question is how we minimise the impact of commercial cultivation.
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Indonesia has ample experience with attempts to create synergy between various standards, with a very simple conclusion: standards are like water and oil. Mixing standards requires ample effort, either by mechanical excitement or high-tech chemistry. Even then they tend to separate out due to false perceptions of superiority, i.e. one standard is “better” than the other. The futility of such wet dreams becomes clear once we see these standards “in action”. The very same auditor verifying the “superior” standard also verifies the “inferior” standard and both tend to get reduced to the lowest common denominator.
This bring us to the weakest link in certification: the auditor and CABs. Publications like Who Watches the Watchmen (EIA 2015; see also Lawson 2007, WWF & WB 2006) – and many informal discussions – point to a crucial issue concerning all standards using using third party verification: the competence of auditors. Some stakeholders argue that auditors are hired by the company and therefore will falsify their findings in its favour. Auditors reject this conspiracy theory, but there is ample evidence that competence amongst auditors is declining, and they are currently the weakest link in certification/verification.
However, if we keep these characteristics in mind there is ample opportunity for synergy between various standards.
Download the presentation here.