FSC accredited, independent, “third-party” certification bodies or “certifiers” certify forests. They assess forest management using the FSC principles, criteria, and standards, each certifier uses their own evaluative process. This allows FSC to remain outside of the assessment process, and supports the integrity of the standard, and of the FSC system. Certifiers evaluate both forest management activities (forest certification) and tracking of forest products (chain-of-custody certification). There are 12 FSC-accredited certifiers around the globe.
Forest landowners or managers can contact an accredited FSC certifier if they are interested in becoming certified. Certifiers engage in a contractual relationship with the landowner/manager to assess forest management against the FSC standard approved for the region where the forest is located. The general public is notified about certification assessments before they take place so that the certifiers, helping assure the integrity of the process, can hear a full range of voices. At the close, an assessment summary report is made public, while at the same time keeping the company’s proprietary information confidential. If the forest management operations assessed qualify for certification, the landowner can choose to sign a certification contract. This event results in their being “certified” and brings with it the landowner’s commitment to continue to practice forestry in a certifiable fashion.
The contract’s duration is five years, at which point a full assessment will be conducted again if the landowner wishes to continue being certified. These five-year audits are supplemented by annual audits to verify that the terms of the contract are being followed, and facilitate regular contact between the certificate holder and certifier.
For those companies who manufacture or trade certified products, a different form of certification applies. Again, to assure the credibility of claims on products, it is important to track materials as they leave the forest and become products down stream. This “chain of custody”(COC) certification process is quite simple. Like any inventory control system, COC allows products to be segregated and identified as having come from a particular source—in this case, an FSC-certified forest.
FSC’s model of certification allows products that flow from certified forests to enter the marketplace with a credential that is unique. Any FSC labeled product can be traced back to a certified source. This aspect of the system is the basis for any credible certification system and is the link between consumer preference and responsible, on the ground forest management.
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