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Crees challenge Resolute FSC certification

Dec. 12, 2013 - Earlier this week, the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) learned that its challenge, launched in May 2013, against Resolute Forest Products' FSC certification for Forest Management Unit 025-51 in the Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean region in Québec was successful. This should result in the suspension of the Resolute Forest Products' FSC certification.

In its final report, Accreditation Services International (ASI), the organization that oversees auditors contracted by forestry companies for FSC certifications, found that "Rainforest Alliance did not draw the proper conclusions from their evaluation of the criteria and indicators" related to FSC's Principle 3 which encompasses the interests of Indigenous Peoples. More specifically ASI, acting on behalf of FSC International, concluded that Resolute Forest Products' auditors, Rainforest Alliance, did not adequately consider the Crees withholding of their "free and informed consent" for the company's forestry activities on Cree traplines (family hunting territories) that were subject to the FSC certification process.

The challenge to Resolute Forest Products' FSC certification stems from the Baril-Moses Agreement that the Crees signed with Québec on the same day that the Paix des Braves Agreement was signed in February of 2002. The Baril-Moses Agreement extends many of the Paix des Braves's forestry provisions to Cree traplines east of the Mistissini height of land, in the Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean region.

The Government of Québec and Resolute Forest Products respected this Agreement until 2009, at which point both parties knowingly and unilaterally implemented forestry management plans contrary to the Baril-Moses Agreement. In breaching the terms of the Baril-Moses Agreement, Resolute Forest Products essentially voided the conditions by which the Crees provided their free and informed consent for forestry operations on these Cree traplines.

In its report ASI has determined that Rainforest Alliance underestimated the impact of Resolute Forest Products' breaches to Baril-Moses Agreement in contrast to the Crees free and informed consent and FSC's Principle 3. In response, ASI has issued two major non-conformity orders against Rainforest Alliance, which under the terms of FSC standards would result in the suspension of Resolute Forest Products certification.

In terms of sustainability, FSC's international certification system is considered to be the most credible by consumers and environmental groups. As a result many retailers and secondary manufacturers of wood and paper products (e.g., Rona, Home Depot, and FedEx) strongly favor wood sourced from FSC certified companies, with some companies like Ikea only purchasing FSC certified wood. The loss of certification will limit Resolute Forest Products access to this specialized sustainable wood products market.

The Crees challenge to Resolute Forest Products and Rainforest Alliance's decision to minimize FSC's Principle 3 in awarding the certification should set a new benchmark for other companies seeking FSC certification on Indigenous Peoples lands in Canada and internationally.

Bill Namagoose, the Executive Director for the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) concluded "we are pleased that when put to the test, FSC International stood by its principles regarding Aboriginal Peoples. We hope the Crees efforts on this challenge bring added credibility to the FSC brand and ensure that governments and companies respect the agreements they have made with First Nations."

December 13, 2013  By CNW

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