FSC certification in Savannahkhet, Laos – reply from SmartWood

Posted: 30 October 2006 in FSC, Laos, Logging, World Bank

From: Richard Donovan
To: Chris Lang
Cc: Jeffrey Hayward (SmartWood), Loy Jones (SmartWood Asia Pacific Regional Manager), Hubert Bonafos (ASI), Heiko Liedeker, FSC
Date: 24.10.2006 00:04
Subject: FSC certification in Savannahkhet, Laos – response from SmartWood


Attached are responses to your questions.


Richard Z. Donovan
Deputy Director, Chief of Forestry & SmartWood Director, Rainforest Alliance
61 Millet Street, Suite 201, Richmond, Vermont 05477

Below I respond to your questions. However, it has also been brought to my attention that you wrote the following –in a “blog”, which relates to these issues in general (i.e. expectations in terms of CARs and certified operations):


“24 January 2006 – SmartWood issued a certificate for 39,007 hectares in Savannahkhet province. They issued a long series of corrective action requests, one of which states: “By the end of Year 1, all logs must contain clear and lasting marks (e.g. paint or chops) to identify the village, strip, and log number.” The only possible reason for this request is that the logs were not being properly marked when the certificate was issued.”

A CAR being issued may mean that some operations (i.e. different certified VFAs) are doing it well, others aren’t as well as they should, etc. The CAR is clear in stating that all (emphasis added here by me) logs must be consistently marked. And as per above, as per a most recent CAR, we have indicated clearly to the operation that no product is to be sold as FSC certified until the issues are proven resolved to SmartWood auditors. This is also a group certification involving various VFAs. Thus the last sentence in the paragraph above would not be an accurate interpretation from an FSC auditing perspective.

Following are answers to your specific questions. I have been able to get some inputs, but others were not able to respond, due to the culmination of Muslim holy days in Southeast Asia (staff on vacation or traveling).

1. When did you first see a copy of the SUFORD May 2006 report: “Control of Timber Production”? Did SUFORD send you a copy of the report? What action did you and SmartWood take on receiving the report?

We saw the report only after seeing your article and following up with the other parties concerned. As stated in our public statement on this topic, we did not receive any information from you (or requests for clarification thereof), except through the WRM report that was sent to us by other parties. SUFORD did not send us a copy; we were able to get through the links provided in your report. Our actions included:


  1. Reviewed the report;
  2. Asked for information from the parties directly involved, including questions related to the accuracy of the information, the scope and intent of the SUFORD report, and implications related to FSC certification and CARs that were included in the original certification contract (as a result of our certification assessment and decision-making process);
  3. Prepared a public statement on the situation; this public statement also documents actions we have taken;
  4. Based on concerns raised in the SUFORD report, through your article, we put in place a CAR that we communicated to the certified operation which restricted their ability to sell FSC-certified products until evidence provided to us indicating that chain of custody shortcomings have been addressed more consistently on all certified village forest operations;
  5. Organized a “random audit” which is beginning on-site tomorrow (Tuesday, October 24, 2006); and,
  6. Kept FSC and ASI informed throughout.

2. In the Public Summary of the assessment, SmartWood wrote that the certification decision was “Based on a thorough field review, analysis and compilation of findings by this SmartWood assessment team”. From the Public Summary (page 16-21) it appears that the site assessment was carried out in May 2003. In July 2004, SmartWood staff visited Savannahkhet and took part in a meeting in Nonsavong village, but did not visit any forest areas. Since then all audit work has been desk-based. Could you please confirm that this is accurate?

First, we would consider a visit to the villages involved as field work. We do not consider that “desk-based”. The majority of the pre-conditions issued from the 2003 assessment related to the rights of the village forest members, to their participation in decision-making, and the transparency in the way they accrued benefits in the sale of their forest products. One of the preconditions had to do with formal recognition by the Laos government of the group structure which enabled the communities to organize themselves for certification. One pre-condition had to do with the a formal HCVF study being conducted, even though the villagers had demonstrated strong informal local knowledge of ecological and social values of their forest and were taking steps to protect those values. Another pre-condition had to do with development of indicators to improve the measurement of the social impacts of forest management. SmartWood also issued a precondition requiring that a more consistent and clearly defined procedure be drawn up and shared with the VFA to ensure the accurate and timely delivery of allocated funds to the Village Development Fund and to show that all outstanding funds owed have been paid. All of the above requirements could adequately be determined to be completed through a document review by SmartWood auditors, and did not require field work.

3. When was condition 26 (regarding timber marking) issued? What has SmartWood done since that time to ensure that the timber is properly marked?

Condition 26 was issued at the time the assessment report with the preconditions was finalized. The FSC does not require certifiers to begin monitoring compliance on Conditions (or CARs) until after a certificate is actually issued. No evidence of major nonconformance in the area of chain of custody was ever presented to SmartWood by any stakeholder, until your reporting came to us through other parties. For your information, these policies and practices by SmartWood represent an approach within the FSC system to be responsive to the needs and realities of community forestry operations.

4. According to the SUFORD report, the FSC annual audit was due in November 2006 (page 23). Yet in SmartWood’s response to my article, SmartWood writes that the expedited audit process “will incur extra costs to village forestry operations with limited resources”. The field audit will take place in October 2006, one month earlier than planned. Surely this will just bring things forward by one month. Why should this incur extra costs to the village forestry operations?

There are actually 2 different operations that were certified – Khammaoune and Savannakhet. There are other outstanding CARs that the operations must meet, and a concern manifest by other parties is that undue attention on CARs related to this chain of custody issue will take their attention and limited resources away from other important CARs. Since the current audit (occurring now) is focused on the COC issues, our auditing will now require a separate audit to ensure all CARs are covered (they may not be ready this week to have the other CARs evaluated). For an operation of this intensity this might not normally occur, as we might have been able to combine and economize – something we try to be proactive about with community forestry operations. Though it may sound trivial, costs associated with a random audit are usually higher due to shorter notice (travel, etc.). Finally, through this correspondence and others, all parties involved are now spending significant amounts of time and resources responding to these issues and certainly more time will be spent on this in the near future by the villages and other organizations involved.

5. SmartWood states in its response that the audit in October “does not allow the communities the allotted time for improvement as per the original RA/SW CAR”. When did SmartWood first make the Savannahkhet Provincial Forestry Office Group Management Certification Unit (which was awarded the certificate) aware of the conditions?

Final CARs are made aware of to the operation at the time of certification contracting (general agreement to meet stipulated CARs is part of the contract). However, as per above, we have added a separate CAR in response to the concerns raised. Other parties have indicated to us that the attention focused on the communities and criticism of being branded “illegal” has drawn them away from overall preparations they were making for all CARs to focus on one CAR. By being put in a rushed mode they would have to decide where to allocate resources, possibly suffering on other areas. It is also our understanding that SUFORD’s intent is to provide support, and make improvements, not only on certified operations but also with other VFAs that are on track to be FSC certified. As you may know, community forestry operations, and the organizations they work with, often face this challenge – limited resources, competing priorities, etc.

SmartWood assessed that the pre-conditions were closed out in July 2005. SmartWood took the certification decision “after review [of] the assessment report and of comments made on the draft report by the operation.” Assuming that this draft report included the conditions, the Savannahkhet Provincial Forestry Office has known about the conditions to the certificate since July 2005 at the latest.

The latest possible moment would have been when the final certification contracts were signed for each operation. As described above, CARs are formally considered draft until then. We would also clarify, as stated previously above, that there were multiple conditions (or CARs) covering various issues, and a certificate holder is going to work through these at different rates, according to their different priorities and concerns. It is possible that what they would perceive as more “community-oriented” conditions would take precedence in the certificate holder’s schedule to work through CARs.

  1. […] could not say whether these systems were working at the time the certificate was issued. In a reply to my question about a condition that SmartWood issued regarding the timber marking, Richard […]

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