Forest certification emerged in response to growing concern about global forest degradation and failed intergovernmental efforts to develop a legally binding agreement on forests. In 1993, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) officially founded the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in partnership with other NGOs and social groups, as well as some retailers, forest companies, and professional certifiers. Backed by governments in many producer countries, forest industry and landowner associations responded to the emergence of FSC by creating “industry-friendly” certification programs with more flexible and discretionary standards. These national-level programs eventually formed an umbrella organization, since 2003 known as the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Scholars have shown that governments facilitated the development of PEFC or FSC certification in many jurisdictions (see Boström 2003; Tollefson et al. 2008; Gale & Haward 2011; Lister 2011), but less attention has been paid to the development and effects of public procurement policies. This section provides a systematic examination of the development of such policies.
The European Parliament has, on several occasions, called for European Union (EU) restrictions on the import of tropical timber, but such restrictions have never been enacted for fear of violating multilateral trade rules. However, the EU has developed an action plan to counter illegal logging, known as the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan (see also Overdevest & Zeitlin 2014). This action plan, approved in Council Conclusions in October 2003, requires the EU to develop Voluntary Partnership Agreements with producer countries on timber licensing. Producer countries entering into such agreements with the EU commit to exporting only legally logged timber to the EU (European Commission 2003). Other key elements in the FLEGT action plan include the development of member-state procurement policies to purchase timber from legal sources; the promotion of private-sector initiatives, including codes of conduct and independent monitoring; and the exercise of due diligence by export credit agencies and financial institutions that fund logging in producer countries (European Commission 2003). In 2008, the European Commission proposed a new, legally binding EU Timber Regulation that recognizes certification as a tool in the risk-assessment procedure when timber is imported into the EU. This timber regulation, adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in 2010, will enter into force in 2013.
According to the EU's policy on green procurement, legality should be a minimum requirement for wood-based products (European Commission 2008), but this policy is not legally binding on the member states. Unlike trade, public procurement is a member-state competence, which leaves the final decision to each individual member state. Six EU member states – Belgium,3 Denmark,4 France, Germany,5 the Netherlands,6 and the UK7 – have adopted procurement policies on purchasing timber from legal and sustainable sources. Outside the EU, such policies have been adopted by Japan,8 New Zealand, and Norway.9 Several other countries, mostly EU member states, are considering developing timber procurement policies. Although the US in 2008 became the first state to legislate against the handling of timber which is illegal according to the laws of the country the timber originated from (see Cashore & Stone 2014), it has thus far not been willing to develop procurement policies for timber.
Examination of the six EU member states and the three other states with procurement policies shows that although critical differences remain, there has been convergence in such policies over time.10 First, some countries, notably the UK, the Netherlands, and Denmark, have developed their own criteria for legally and sustainably sourced timber, and then assessed the degree to which certification programs meet those criteria. The UK has established a Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) to assess certification schemes and advise the government on timber procurement. Similarly, the Netherlands has established a Timber Procurement Assessment Committee (TPAC) to evaluate both international and national-level certification schemes. Most other countries have adopted simpler systems, deciding that certification under certain schemes is proof of legality and sustainability. Most countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, and Denmark, have also decided that public contractors may opt to use some other credible type of assurance that the source is legal and sustainable. In the UK, for example, FLEGT-licensed timber will be accepted until 2015; thereafter, proof of sustainable timber will be required.
Second, most countries accept FSC as evidence of legal and sustainable timber from all regions and producer countries. When European governments began to develop public procurement guidelines in the early 2000s, the FSC quickly became the program of choice. These governments saw forest certification as a way to circumvent multilateral trade rules that prevented them from imposing import restrictions on tropical timber. By contrast, Norway has since 2007 banned the use of all tropical timber, including FSC-certified timber, in public-sector buildings and other construction works (Norwegian Ministry of the Environment 2007). Although this policy might be in contravention of multilateral trade rules, it has not yet been challenged by any producer country.
Third, although several countries initially signaled a preference for FSC-certified wood, most countries have eventually accepted PEFC as a credible certificate too. For example, while Denmark in 2003 declared that the FSC was the only certification scheme that provided adequate assurance of legally and sustainably produced tropical wood (Danish Ministry of the Environment 2003), the Danish government in 2008 accepted both FSC and PEFC as proof of legal and sustainable wood. Similarly, PEFC was not accepted as evidence of sustainable wood in the first assessment of certification schemes by the UK government (CPET 2004), but by the time the government implemented preferential treatment, PEFC had improved its standards sufficiently to meet the requirements for both legality and sustainability. However, PEFC is of a different nature than FSC: whereas FSC is a global certification scheme with one set of principles and criteria, PEFC is a mutual recognition framework that endorses national-level certification schemes on the basis of certain minimum requirements. Given the significant differences among national member schemes, NGOs have repeatedly urged countries to assess each national-level scheme and accept only those that meet legality and sustainability criteria (see FERN 2009). Because such assessments would require considerable effort, most countries have adopted a less elaborate system, deciding that PEFC as an umbrella scheme meets public procurement criteria. The exception is the Netherlands, where TPAC has assessed and accepted PEFC International and five member schemes – PEFC Belgium, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and Austria. These five national schemes supply about 90 per cent of the PEFC timber on the Dutch market. Norway is an outlier too; as with FSC, Norway does not accept PEFC-certified tropical timber in public-sector buildings and other construction works.
Fourth, some countries have included social issues in their timber-procurement policies. Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium were frontrunners in incorporating social requirements in public procurement contracts. Since 2003, Denmark has included various social criteria in its definition of sustainable forest management, relating to issues such as land tenure, rights of indigenous peoples, workers’ rights, and community relations (Danish Ministry of the Environment 2003). Similarly, the Dutch and Belgian policies have included social criteria as an integral element of sustainable forest management. However, the inclusion in public procurement policies of social requirements over and above those legislated for in the producer country itself remains controversial. The UK used to exclude social issues, which meant that social requirements above those legislated for in the producer country could not be included in public procurement contracts (Brack 2005). Since April 2010, however, all government procurement contracts for timber products in the UK must include social criteria as contract conditions (CPET 2010). Social issues recognized by Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the UK include rights of indigenous peoples, rights of local communities, land tenure, recognition of customary rights, workers’ rights, health and safety, fair prices (only the Netherlands), multiple functions of forests (only the Netherlands), participation, dispute resolution, and law enforcement. Although NGOs have pushed hard for the adoption of social criteria as contract conditions in timber procurements policies, Germany, France, Japan, and New Zealand have not recognized social issues in their timber procurement policies.
Fifth, like EU-member countries and Norway, Japan has developed public procurement policies closely linked to certification schemes, but the policies are more discretionary and flexible than the public procurement policies in Europe. At the G8 Gleneagles Summit in 2005, the UK government used its presidency to strengthen demand-side measures on illegal logging. Of the non-EU members of the G8, Japan was the only government to agree to develop a policy of public procurement of timber from legal and sustainable sources (Humphreys 2006, p. 160). Japan's policy was adopted in 2006 and sets out the modalities for verifying legality and sustainability. Unlike some European governments, Japan has not carried out assessments of certification schemes, but accepts FSC, PEFC, and all other certification schemes as evidence of legality and sustainability. Japan even accepts self-declarations under industry codes of conduct or company-determined methods.
To conclude, most countries with timber procurements policies consider FSC and PEFC certificates to be evidence of the legality and sustainability of forest products. Hence, timber procurement policies in Europe, Japan, and New Zealand are closely linked to forest certification schemes.
Despite important advances in intergovernmental fisheries governance in recent years, three-fourth of the world's fisheries are at or beyond “full exploitation” (FAO 2010), indicating that overall fishing pressure has remained heavy. In response to increasing concerns over the inability or unwillingness of governments to resolve the challenges of fisheries management – and inspired by the FSC's success – the WWF exported the certification and labeling idea to the fisheries sector. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was formally established in 1997 as a non-profit organization. Unlike the FSC standard, the MSC standard builds on international agreements and guidelines, particularly the standards and principles in the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The MSC is therefore embedded in a regulatory field that strongly influenced state responses to the program and the subsequent evolution of its standards and procedures.
Unlike many standardization bodies, the MSC allocates no preferred position to governments, which are treated like other stakeholders such as conservation organizations, fishing companies, industry associations, and seafood buyers. Given the long history of intergovernmental fisheries governance, some governments were deeply skeptical of the MSC from its inception, questioning the right of non-governmental bodies to govern common-pool resources, such as fish stocks. Seeing the MSC as an attempt to create a non-state management regime beyond national jurisdiction, these governments argued that non-governmental actors had neither the necessary experience nor the mandate to govern fisheries. The Nordic Council of Ministers quickly became a central proponent of an FAO-endorsed labeling scheme, but neither through meetings in the FAO Committee of Fisheries (COFI) nor through consultation was agreement reached about how FAO should respond to the emergence of fisheries certification (see Gulbrandsen 2009, pp. 656–657). In 2003, at another COFI meeting, governments agreed to develop voluntary guidelines for the eco-labeling of fish and fisheries products from wild-capture fisheries. A set of such labeling guidelines was subsequently drafted during a series of FAO expert and technical consultations. These non-binding guidelines, issued by FAO in 2005, stated that labeling programs should include objective third-party fisheries assessments using scientific evidence; transparent processes with extensive stakeholder consultation and opportunities for complaints and rules for adjudication; and standards based on the sustainability of target species, ecosystems, and management practices (FAO 2005). Although the guidelines fell short of prescribing mandatory requirements for the use of eco-labels, they represented a step toward greater government influence over non-state labeling schemes (Gulbrandsen 2009).
The MSC responded swiftly by welcoming the issuance of FAO guidelines, saying that this represented “a significant endorsement of eco-labeling as a tool to achieve the sustainable management of fisheries” (MSC 2005). In order to comply fully with the guidelines, the program had to separate the standard-setting and accreditation functions. The MSC thus outsourced accreditation decisions to Accreditation Services International – an independent organization that also accredits certifiers for the FSC. Similar to the FSC, MSC's approach to accreditation has therefore evolved from an in-house process to one controlled by a separate organization. Further, the MSC was obliged to make its procedure for handling objections to fisheries assessments independent of the certification program. The MSC reported both changes had been implemented by September 2006 (MSC 2006).
Despite the initial mistrust of the MSC, many governments with large fishing industries have become increasingly supportive of the program. Rather than seeing the MSC as a potential threat to states’ sovereign authority to manage fisheries, these governments now view it as a helpful supplement to domestic, regional, and international management regimes. Government management authorities have in many cases provided financial support for MSC certification or have even been the clients for certification (Gulbrandsen 2009; Gale & Haward 2011; Foley 2012). For instance, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was the client for the certification of the Alaska salmon fishery, which re-entered assessment for its third, five-year MSC certification in July 2012. In Canada, where the government had been critical to the MSC, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2007 made certification and eco-labeling a cornerstone of its Ocean to Plate policy strategy. This strategy was accompanied by presentations and government documents more or less officially endorsing the MSC (Foley 2012). A similar pattern of support is found across the Atlantic, where several European governments in the mid-2000s shifted from skepticism toward the MSC to active support. The UK, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands have all made certification part of their seafood policy strategies and have provided funding for pre-assessment or full assessment of fisheries (interview with MSC policy officer, 2 July 2012).
A few government-backed certification schemes for wild-capture fisheries have emerged, notably in Iceland, Japan, and the US state of Alaska. Dissatisfied with the MSC, these territorial schemes used the FAO guidelines as a point of reference when they started developing their standards. Indeed, the FAO guidelines have become the key global “meta-governance” standard for fisheries certification schemes and political responses to them (Foley 2012). However, the MSC has continued to hold a virtual monopoly in setting widely adopted certification standards for wild-capture fisheries (Ponte 2012, p. 301) and the government-backed territorial schemes do not challenge MSC's position.
To summarize, state responses to the emergence and development of the MSC have included establishing intergovernmental guidelines for fisheries certification, providing support for MSC certification, and endorsing certification and labeling in seafood policy strategies. Notwithstanding the emergence of a few government-backed schemes, many governments with a significant stake in seafood exports have become increasingly supportive of the MSC, facilitating industry uptake of certification within their jurisdictions – much as in the case of forest certification.