Dispute resolution key to FSC decision to dissasociate from company operating in DRC

The credibility of the standards system underpins the value of any claims made on behalf of the standard. The imposition of sanctions by FSC against the Danzer group, resulting from complaints about human rights violations committed by one of its subsidiaries, exemplifies the importance of robust mechanisms to address complaints made about a certified entity and protect the credibility of a standard.

Effective dispute resolution is one way to manage the risks to your credibility. An excellent example of the importance of this component of a social and environmental standards system emerged recently with the announcement by ISEAL full member Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to disassociate from the Danzer Group of forest product companies due to activities of its subsidiary operating in the Congo. Read the full press release here.

“BONN, Germany –The International Board of Directors of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has decided, reluctantly but firmly, to disassociate from the Danzer Group of forest product companies, after in-depth research by an impartial Complaints Panel concluded that the former Danzer subsidiary SIFORCO had been involved in unacceptable activities, as specified in FSC’s Policy for Association, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2011, while it was still part of the Danzer Group. ‘Disassociation’, the termination of all contractual relationships with a company, is the most severe sanction that FSC can impose.”

FSC obviously considered their continued association with Danzer to be a risk to their credibility. This strategy seems to have worked, as evidenced by the statement from Greenpeace International's Senior Forest Campaigner, Judy Rodriguez:

“Greenpeace is pleased FSC is showing that its Policy for Association has teeth and is not risking its reputation by being associated with the Danzer Group due to its involvement in human rights violations. We find this landmark decision critical for the credibility of FSC.”

One of the reasons the strategy worked is because FSC has an effective Dispute Resolution System. The FSC Dispute Resolution System is focussed firstly on resolving complaints and disputes through discussion and negotiation. When these attempts fail, or are not accepted, formal process are employed.


Thomas Colonna has been manager of the FSC Dispute Resolution System for two years now, and says that: “With so many cases processed, evaluated, closed, or redirected, we gained significant experience in alternative dispute resolution and continue to learn and improve our systems”. This is a significant achievement for the continued credibility of FSC. Stakeholders can easily access its dispute resolution system through an online Dispute Submission Form and track their complaint or appeal throughout the process. This transparency and accessilibity goes a long way towards building and retaining FSC’s credibility.

FSC, as a large organisation, has the resources for a dispute resolution unit; however, like with any organisation, difficult funding decisions often need to be made. But clearly the FSC has prioritised dispute resolution and decided that having a well-resourced and robust dispute resolution system is important to their credibility.

Other organisations could consider similar endeavours. The more accessible you make a dispute resolution system, the more activity you can expect. Dispute resolution should not be thought of as a burden that must be dealt with, rather it should be considered it as an opportunity to enhance your credibility and gain valuable information that will help you improve your standards and certification programme.

As I’ve mentioned before, the ability for the public to play a role in assurance (through an accessible complaints system) provides the potential for an alternative form of surveillance of clients, thus leading to more public confidence in your assurance programme. Public complaints also has an effect on clients behaviour; encouraging conformance because they know they are being observed.

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I write a regular blog series for the ISEAL Community and recent topics have included ISO17065, risk assessments, and remote sensing and audits. Find out about becoming an ISEAL subscriber to get access to this ISEAL analysis