What does slave labor and human trafficking have to do with going “green?” A lot these days given the latest update of chain of custody certification requirements released by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the recent implementation of California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act.

Both of these issues were highlighted in the March 28 Woodworking Network webcast, “The Dollars & Sense of Going Green: Sustainable Wood Supply Chains” (available now On Demand) that I had the pleasure to moderate. Joining me on the program were Pat Bowling, vice president of communications for the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) and Kathryn Fernholz, executive director of Dovetail Partners Inc.

Bowling’s presentation, “The Business Case for Supply Chain Transparency,” also included an overview of the AHFA’s new Responsible Sourcing Manual, designed as a “baseline tool for sustainability initiatives that include ‘social responsibility.’” Fernholz, meanwhile, presented “Trends in Chain-of-Custody Certification for Wood Products,” which highlighted both FSC and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) updates, including group chain of custody programs and Dovetail's new report on Chain of Custody Certification.

While the subjects of these two presentations were radically different, it struck me that a common denominator, touched on briefly by Fernholz and elaborated at great length by Bowling, was “social responsibility.”

As Bowling put it in discussing the California Transparency in Supply Act that took effect January 1 of this year, “You must not only have knowledge about the products and components in your supply chain, but also about the workers who produced those products and components.”

To this she added, the following points:

  • “Have you verified that there is no human trafficking or slavery in your supply chain?
  • “Do you audit your suppliers to make sure they are not involved in human trafficking or slavery?
  • “Can your suppliers certify that their suppliers comply with standards regarding slavery and human trafficking?
  • “Are company employees who have direct responsibility for supply chain management trained to monitor that supply chair for evidence of human trafficking or slavery?”

Bowling said that the new California law does not include monetary penalties for companies that violate it. But they would face the “shame game” of having their misdeeds made public.

Bowling also noted that the law only applies to companies with annual sales in excess of $300 million. While that would seem to exclude the vast majority of wood products firms that sell their wares in California, the number becomes more sizeable when companies that sell to retailers like Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Lowe’s are taken into account. Plus, like many rules that trace their origins to California, federal supply chain transparency legislation has been proposed that Bowling said “is actually more stringent than the California law after which it is modeled.”

FSC and Social Responsibility
I have received a few private emails from wood products executives who voiced their displeasure with the new FSC Chain of Custody standard that went into effect October 1, 2011 and includes beefed up social responsibility requirements.

One or my email correspondents wrote, “While claiming to be an independent, non-political organization, the FSC body might be overstepping certain boundaries when making specific demands, albeit honorable, that have little or no direct bearing on responsible, conservation-oriented forestry. Issues such as forced labor, child labor and fair labor practices are already being addressed by several national and international agencies which are actually in a far better position of meaningful enforcement.”

Another email came from the representative of a multi-million dollar cabinet company who was unhappy to learn about the new FSC rules that it would have to meet to continue its chain of custody certification. “You may already be aware of this extended FSC policy involving safety, right to collective bargaining and discrimination audits by FSC auditors…It would appear that certain outside influences have found favor within the FSC halls.”

In a follow-up email, the president of this same cabinet company said, “We put a lot of time and money in becoming FSC chain of custody certified. We made the determination that we will not be seeking recertification after reading the new doctrine. We have OSHA and labor laws to protect the employees. We do not need the forest sustainability folks increasing our requirements and costs. Likewise we have an out of control National Labor Relations Board as it is. The right to collective bargain? What the hell is that? There are already labor laws in place that state this. So no, I will not be looking to give money to an organization that wants to tell me how to run my shop. Finally we sold $12 million in kitchens last year. One of them was an FSC job. So you can see, it won’t put a big dent in our sales.”

Do you see a place for social responsibility in your green wood products program or should FSC and SFI keep their sights trained on forest management and sustainability issues?

Tell us what you think.

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Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.

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