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Forest Market Linking (RIL Verified)

TFF PUBLISHES GENERIC STANDARD FOR RIL & ANNOUNCES MAJOR CHANGES

TO IT’S FOREST-MARKET LINKING PROGRAM

 

BACKGROUND

Linking progress towards sustainable forest management with preferred market access, has become increasingly attractive to producers and buyers alike. Forest certification has long been held up as the ultimate panacea and model for this sort of linkage but in the tropical world, forests are disappearing much faster than they are being certified. Consequently, a lot of focus has shifted to a more fundamental area of concern; the legality of origin and assurances that products in the supply chain have been legally sourced. This is seen as an essential starting point for promoting sustainable forest management.

The complexity of achieving certification in the tropical world, has led to the development of “phased” or “step-wise” approaches. Such approaches are providing more encouraging alternatives for stimulating greater commitment to the achievement of the ultimate goal of sustainable forest management than the “all-or-nothing” concept of forest certification.

The Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF) has taken an important step in developing and offering a market orientated program that sets out to stimulate improvements in forest management while at the same time providing strong market assurances regarding the legality and origin of the forest product from participating forest companies.

Creating a Linkage That Conveys Benefit and Stimulates Improvement in Forest Management

The forest-market linking program developed by TFF-Indonesia in 2003 as a pilot project, is now being promoted as a full-fledged program involving the use of labels and specific market claims that set out to provide strong and transparent assurances of legality of origin to buyers who increasingly find their purchasing policies the subject of attack by the more outspoken environmental lobbies.

 

The initial pilot project set out the principles for participation.

  1. A commitment to the adoption of reduced impact logging
  2. Verification of legality for the participating forest management unit, and,
  3. Establishment of a third party audited chain-of-custody system to provide legitimacy to the market claim of legal origin.
Based on the encouraging results of the initial pilot project in 2003-4, TFF has decided to expand it’s market-linking program to it’s global engagement in the tropical world. All aspects of the original principles for participation have been strengthened to provide greater credibility and transparency.
 

 

The forest-market linking program is now grounded in a generic definition of RIL with country specific criteria and indicators. A clear and robust legality definition is provided as solid foundation for the market-linking program. All aspects of the program are now subject to third part audit to provide independent verification and consistent adherence to standards.

To encourage greater effectiveness and participation, TFF has introduced a two step approach with corresponding labels conveying distinct recognition of a forest company’s efforts to improve management practices.

Administration and membership protocols have been drawn up to provide greater clarity in disseminating information on the program.

     
Two Steps – Two Labels

A step-wise approach to achieving sustainable forest management needs to provide appropriate incentives and recognition in order to gain meaningful participation. The decision to introduce an additional label followed the realization that there was an urgent need to broaden the base of participating forest concessions if meaningful change in the way tropical forests are being managed is to be achieved.


Consequently, TFF has developed a program that offers two levels of market-linking recognition.

 
     

“Legal Verified” Label

This label is intended for use by ‘entry level’ applicants who have demonstrated their legality and have made a commitment to improving management practices.
 
  • Legality verified by independent audit using the “Legal Origin” definition of legality.
  • Chain-of-Custody system in placed from the forest to and through the participating industry. CoC certificate issued by credible, independent auditor in a business to business relationship.
  • Agreement in place for a RIL training program commitment to a schedule for full adoption of RIL practices within two years.
  • This label is intended for use in conjunction with shipping documents, to be affixed to product consignments, and to be used in conjunction with publicity materials.

“RIL Verified”

Label This label is intended to demonstrate substantial compliance with the RIL Standard. Companies awarded this label have demonstrated a strong commitment to principles of sustainable forest management and are well on their way to achieving forest certification.
 
  • Legality verified by independent audit using the “Full Legal Compliance” definition of legality. This more rigorous definition of legality goes well beyond simple legal origin and provides assurance of legal compliance with regulations covering a wide range of forest management and other related issues.
  • Chain-of-Custody system in placed from the forest to and through the participating industry. CoC certificate issued by credible, independent auditor in a business to business relationship.
  • Substantial compliance with RIL Criteria and Indicators verified by credible, independent audit.
  • This label verifies a high degree of compliance with sustainable forest management practices and can be used in product labeling.

     

A Generic Definition of RIL
RIL is defined as timber harvesting technologies and practices with the following main objectives:

  • minimize impact on the environment (including wildlife) and related social aspects;
  • minimize damage to potential future crop trees (including regeneration);
  • provide safe working conditions; and
  • improve timber utilization and recovery in the forest.
This definition provides a basis for identifying RIL requirements. RIL comprises the entire spectrum of forest harvesting operations from pre-harvest inventory, selection of merchantable trees and design of infrastructure, to felling, extraction and hauling of logs, and finally post-harvest operations and assessments. Careful selection of trees to be harvested is a first step toward ensuring that conservation principles and future harvesting cycles are appropriately considered.

Over the past two years, a technical committee within the TFF board of directors and in close collaboration with TFF regional program directors, has developed a generic RIL Standard and a protocol for administrating the TFF Forest-Market Linking Program.

This TFF RIL Standard has been designed to serve as a quality reference for timber harvesting procedures and techniques in natural tropical forests. The Standard comprises one principle and five aspects that will be assessed against selected criteria and indicators. The five aspects are:
  1. Definition of RIL elements
  2. Outcome requirements for the residual forest stand
  3. Occupational health and safety
  4. Components of the management system
  5. Professional level of personnel
 

RIL performance table for Indonesia

     

Since virtually all aspects of tropical forest management are very country specific from a variety of natural parameters to operational issues through to the legal framework in which forests are administered, it is essential that country (or region specific) criteria and indicators be developed to provide a consistent basis for defining, implementing, evaluating/ auditing, and monitoring RIL practices. Such a criteria and indicator checklist has already been developed for the Indonesian situation.

A document detailing this generic standard for RIL together with a description of administrative protocols for participation in TFF’s forest-market linking program is now available.

Perceptions of Legality

In recent years, a rapidly growing awareness of illegal logging and of the trade in illegal forest products, has resulted in a shift of emphasis from forest certification to the more fundamental aspect of legality. The implications of illegal logging and the trade in illegally sourced forest products are now well understood and there is a strong consensus developing that illegal practices benefit a select few while undermining the sustainability of a vital industry as well as the sustainability of the forest itself.

It would appear at first glance, that the definition of what is legal (and illegal) should be easy to arrive at, but this has proven to be a very illusive goal. The reasons are as varied as they are numerous. Many of the reasons are related to the fundamental question, “What is the purpose of a legality definition or standard?”.

 

  1. Market driven need for a legality standard. This motivation is firmly grounded in the market place. Traders, importers, distributors and retailers are being pressured from various lobby groups to exclude illegal wood from their supply chains, take illegal wood off the shelves, etc. The alternative is a threat of boycott action and negative consumer based lobbying against the offending company. Governments, particularly in Europe are also becoming proactive participants in this lobby campaign by setting purchasing policy for government funded projects.

    This “market driven” motivation for a legality standard, recognizes the need to eliminate “illegal” wood from the market place while at the same time acknowledging the need to ensure a level playing field in the trade of “legal” timber products.

  2. Legality standard as a tool to strengthen governance of the forest resource, particularly in countries and jurisdictions where law enforcement has traditionally been weak. A good example of this would be the development of a “full compliance legality standard” to strengthen the Indonesian Ministry of Forests concession audit program LPI- Lembaga Penylai Independen (Independent Audit Body).

    The motivating rationale for creating a legality standard of “full legal compliance”, covers a wide range of special interests from groups who advocate sweeping legal reform in the name of social justice, to groups who are interested in improving the effectiveness of the mandated institution in providing for effective oversight of the forest resource.

    The legality standard that emerges from a governance related motivation tries to capture a wide range of issues concerned with everything from basic forest management regulation to sweeping social justice issues (often poorly defined in a legal framework).
In Indonesia, the debate about the creation of a “legality standard” has gone on for at least the last 4 years. The most recent developments have been the development of a “standard for the verification of legal wood” through a consensus based process facilitated by LEI-Lembaga Ekolabel Indonesia (Indonesian Ecolabeling Institute). This is essentially a “full legal compliance” standard and is now being considered by the Ministry of Forests.

The Ministry of Forests has made certain commitments to participation in the FLEGT and VPA programs being implemented under EU funding. It is likely that further ‘adjustments’ to this standard will occur as part of this EU funded initiative and the Ministry of Forests role in this initiative.

The difficulty in reaching a consensus in the legality standard debate relates primarily to the different perceptions of what the standard is intended to be used for. However, some of the confusion in the legality debate also relates to the use and interpretation of certain terms. TFF offers the following definitions and explanations which, as much as possible, are consistent with terms used by other initiatives dealing in verification of legality such as the WWF GFTN and the SmartWood initiatives to develop generic legality standards.
     

“Legal Right to Harvest”: Basic permits related to the concession license and the annual cutting permits have been approved competent authority.

“Legal Origin” : Legal right to harvest established. All legal requirements regarding transportation of materials have been met through an independently monitored chain-of-custody system. This definition of legality is used in conjunction with the TFF “Legal Verified’ mark.

“Full Legal Compliance” : Full compliance with all (relevant) laws, regulations, etc. inclusive of the Legal Origin definition. Substantive ‘grey areas’ may still exist. Consensus on this standard has been reached through a consultative process facilitated by LEI. TFF has developed a modified version of this standard during the pilot project stage and applies this comprehensive standard of legal compliance to the “RIL Verified” mark.

Chain-of-Custody: The Glue that Holds it all Together

“Chain of Custody” is a system of protocols and procedures designed to provide assurance of the origin of materials associated with specific market claim(s) such as FSC certified, LEI certified, Legal Origin, RIL Verified, etc.
     
  • Standards for CoC systems are well established and internationally recognized.
  • Standards include clear guidance on issues such as material marking, separation of materials, documentation, system description (manuals), understanding, etc.
  • Credibility of a CoC system is established and maintained by independent, third part auditor in a ‘business-to-business’ relationship.

A chain-of-custody system itself is not proof of anything unless it is linked to a specific claim attached to a specific product.

Both the “Legal Verified” and the “RIL Verified” marks require third party audited CoC systems to be in place.