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FSC and Timber Legality
Preventing the use of illegally harvested timber 

Principle 1 of the FSC Principles and Criteria requires forest managers to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the country of harvest, and with international treaties. 

FSC regards legality as an essential but not necessarily sufficient step towards sustainable forest management worldwide.

All countries with forests have rules to manage ownership and harvesting rights, to contain possible environmental and social impacts, and to govern trade and export. But the level of enforcement of these rules is very different across the globe. This means that neither foresters who simply want to work within the framework of the law, nor those who want to go further and use the responsible management practices required by FSC certification, are competing on a level playing field with those who operate outside the law.

FSC therefore applauds legislation adopted in the USA, the EU and Australia, to prevent the use of illegally harvested timber, both imported and domestically produced. Similar legislation in Switzerland demands transparency about the origin and species of imported timber.

In the US and the EU, governments do not recognize privately certified timber as automatically complying with the law. In the US, legislation says that the companies which trade, use and/or market timber have to apply “due care” to ensure compliance, while in the EU there are more specific requirements for a “due diligence” system. It is the responsibility of companies to decide whether they consider that a system like FSC certification will be enough to demonstrate to the controlling authorities that they are exercising due care or diligence.

Australian legislation will follow the EU approach by requiring a due diligence system, of which the specifics will be formulated by November 2014. In this case, there is a good chance that FSC certification will be recognized as automatically complying with the due diligence requirements.

Timber legality legislation in the US, Europe and Australia is obviously important to FSC certificate holders in those countries, but it also has implications for those that directly or indirectly supply these timber markets from abroad.

These pages are to inform our stakeholders about what measures FSC has taken to respond to timber legality legislation, in particular how it has complemented its existing requirements for both Forest Management and Chain of Custody certification so that they contribute to compliance with the EU timber regulations. It also provides information on what contributions are expected, or likely to be expected, from FSC certificate holders in order to ensure compliance with timber legality legislation in different countries and regions, and provides information about the activities of European FSC offices concerning timber legality. The pages will be updated with specific information for certificate holders on an ongoing basis.

FSC seeks to ensure that its certification system is contributing to the elimination of illegal logging, respecting the requirements of those governments that have introduced specific legislation. But it does not lose sight of the fact that legality is just the first step towards sustainability.

What Does Timber Legality Legislation Mean for FSC Certificate Holders in Other Parts of the World? 

While timber legality laws target the companies active in the countries where the legislation is in place, FSC certified suppliers from other countries are also affected. They may need to assist customers further up the supply chain with information, risk assessment and/or risk mitigation.

For more information on the possible role certificate holders in other parts of the world can/should play, download the Timber Legality Memo.