Early June this year, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) celebrated its first certificates for Indonesian forest managers, released by its certification body PT AJA Sertifikasi Indonesia (AJA). With this announcement came the (inevitable?) gossip about AJA, its employees and its clients. One issue in particular echoed amongst experts: how did AJA manage to verify some 610,000 hectares, an area the size of Palestine, against a brand-new standard in little over half a year?
Mid August, WWF International voiced this issue through an Open Letter to the Indonesian Forestry Certification Cooperation (IFCC, PEFC’s International Stakeholder Member in Indonesia). In its letter, WWF notes that ‘the IFCC certificates could be “jumping the gun” on a journey towards sustainability that has only just begun. It would be a missed opportunity if the IFCC system lacks the rigour and standards to reliably verify how companies are progressing in the implementation of sustainability commitments’. WWF furthermore questioned ‘the rigour of assessment of plantation management practices under the IFCC system’.
One month later, mid September, IFCC replied to WWF with an Open Response. IFCC notes that its mandate is limited to setting the standard, and advised WWF ‘to contact those involved in the conformity assessment process especially the certification body’ (read AJA). IFCC suggests WWF ‘may want to consult the public summary report of the audit available from the certification body’, a somewhat brazen comment as AJA treats its public summary reports as confidential documents. (Late October, AJA’s lawyer “requested” me to return and delete (a.o.) all of AJA’s public (summary) reports in my possession.)
Activists have long warned that ‘certification standards could be brought down to the lowest denominator in a so-called ‘race to the bottom’. (See also ‘Certification Rift in Indonesia’ by FWI, ‘Ethical shopping guide to Garden Furniture’ by Ethical Consumer and Summary report ‘Opportunities and challenges of certifying and monitoring sustainable biomass’ by Oxfam.) I used to dismiss this warning, believing that the various safeguards between auditor and auditee (not in the least peer review, certification decision makers, and accreditation bodies) were sufficient. So, did the newbie certification body (established in 2012) with its newbie manager implementing a newbie standard[viii] fall prey to a race to the bottom?
My personal experiences with AJA suggest it did. Not only did my signature appear on reports (plural!) that I’ve never seen, let alone sanctioned, it changed report findings from negative to positive without my consent. Worse, AJA failed to adequately address this issue when I raised it over four (4) months ago. Consequently, I have earlier reported AJA to its accreditation body and today reported it to the local police for what I believe to be falsification of my findings and my signature.
Bart W van Assen
Mobile: +62 813 11442202