Why SFI is Better for Woodworkers

William V. Street Jr.
Director, Woodworkers Department
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is asking for comments on the draft language for its LEED rating system. SFI Inc. has invited views on the treatment of third-party forest certification, which must be “FSC or better” according to the latest USGBC credit language. In this post, William V. Street Jr., Director of the Woodworkers Department, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, a member of the SFI Board of Directors, and chair of the PEFC Board of Directors, looks at the benefits of SFI certification for workers.

The IAMAW (International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers) represents more forestry and wood workers then any other union in the United States. We have members who work in SFI-certified forests and FSC-certified forests. We have some that work in forests certified by both systems on any given day. We support all certification systems that can deliver sustainable forestry in a way that protects forest ecosystems as well as forest dependent communities and our members.

The forest landscape in North America has been altered by humans for more than 3,000 years.  Sometimes in a way that is sustainable and sometimes in ways that are not. During this period, there were times when both natural and human resources were exploited. What is critical to our members is that forests be managed in such a way as to ensure their long-term survival and viability while at the same time promoting thriving rural communities, safe jobs, and decent work. From this perspective, SFI has several advantages for workers that FSC does not.

SFI has had union members on their Board of Directors for years. Unions are also involved in their standard setting processes. As a result, SFI has labor guidelines and requirements that exceed U.S. law. SFI’s third-party based audit system means that problems as they arise are resolved quickly because for our members, justice delayed is justice denied. SFI has a standing Workers Rights sub-committee ready at the call to meet to begin social dialogue when problems are identified. SFI’s work standards are based on the Conventions of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) core labor standards. The application and enforcement of these standards are derived directly from ILO rulings and recommendations. FSC, on the other hand, relies on a political process to enforce ILO labor standards in the U.S. Since forest workers have not been provided the same leadership opportunities in FSC, the likelihood of prevailing in a political-based process is remote.

The FSC enforcement process is not at “arms” length from the standard setting body. This means that considerations other than fact-based evidence frequently prevail with many involving conflicts of interests between the standard maker and the auditor. This “judge and jury” role confusion tends to make FSC vulnerable to the whims of large special interest groups who are able to dictate outcomes that in the past have been harmful to workers, their communities, and forest health.

Finally, the ideological driven “exclusivity” of FSC means that systems such as LEED contribute to rural poverty and unemployment while simultaneously adding economic pressure to convert forest land to non-forest land uses, especially in areas with high concentrations of SFI certified forests which is approximately 75% of US certified forest land. This “exclusive” nature of both FSC and programs such as LEED creates economic barriers for wood sourced from local forests produced by our members. SFI on the other hand is inclusive and respectful of all certified wood and forests, thereby not harming our members who produce FSC wood products.

The IAM realizes that both FSC and SFI have a ways to go before either of them can claim to be perfect from a worker’s perspective. However, both systems have made significant contributions to move forest managers and forest products towards the concept of sustainability. Our members have learned throughout our own 125-year history that when we fight among ourselves, when we fail to practice solidarity, we all suffer. We hope a time comes when those who care about forests, forest workers, and their communities learn that promoting one system at the expense of another, while major areas of U.S. forestland are not certified, is a waste of time and energy.

Neither system is going to go disappear. We will continue to work with all systems to improve their social standards, promote rural livelihoods, and decent work. For the time being, in terms of woodworkers it is “SFI or better” because in the U.S., SFI and the American Tree Farm System of small family forest land owners are the best.

Respected organizations are calling on the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize all credible certification programs used in North America for its LEED rating system – including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, American Tree Farm System, Canadian Standards Association and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. The LEED Rating System Third Public Comment Period is open until March 20, 2012. At the end of the review period, USGBC members will vote on the final draft.

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