Experts investigated how sustainable forest companies should effectively interact with local communities
Interaction with the local communities, including Indigenous people, and respect for their rights is one of the fundamental principles of sustainable forest companies, which is enshrined in the National Standard of FSC Certification (hereinafter the standard). The effectiveness of this interaction is closely related to the common understanding and interpretation of the social aspects of the standard by all stakeholders in the process, as well as clear and accessible interpretation of all relevant procedures and mechanisms in the standard.
Due to the lack of a large number of competent experts on social issues of forest certification in Russia and in anticipation of the adoption of the new FSC certification standard, WWF-Russia with the support of Stora Enso held a series of field workshops with leading Russian experts on social and legal issues from other industries. The workshops were attended by representatives of leading Russian forest companies, scientific community, environmental organizations and experts in the field of voluntary forest certification.
The main objective of the field workshops is to raise awareness of forest sector specialists about effective mechanisms of observance of the rights of local communities and Indigenous people, as well as to form a common understanding of the terminology used in the expert community, including such key concepts as customary rights and FPIC (free prior informed consent). In addition, the participants were able to improve their skills of interaction with Indigenous people and local communities.
"Interaction with Indigenous people is a crucial issue for many forest companies. All stakeholders in the process need to properly approach this process, which is isolated in a separate principle of operation within the framework of the National Forest Management Standard of FSC certification. International organizations identify Indigenous people as the least protected groups of the population, so special attention is paid to the observance of their rights and consideration of their interests, including in matters of environmental management. WWF's mission is not just to prevent the degradation of the environment of the planet, but also to lay the foundation for the harmonious existence of nature and man, so in our work we pay special attention to social aspects. It is important to understand that intact forests are not only habitats for many species of plants and animals, they are often home to many Indigenous people as well," says Alexander Voropaev, WWF-Russia Forest Program project coordinator.
The topic of the third and final meeting held near Tikhvin in Leningrad Region from 8 to 10 October, was practical issues of interaction between forest companies and Indigenous communities. According to UN estimates, Indigenous people make up about 5% of the world's population (about 400 million people) and live in 90 countries. They have been maintaining their language, culture and traditional way of life for thousands of years, often on the brink of survival because they live in isolated or remote areas. Often, the existence and future of these communities are closely linked to traditional nature management and forests, which can also be a source of resources for logging companies. That is why it is important for sustainable companies to achieve a balance of interests in such cases and to take into account the rights of Indigenous people in their operation.
The legal aspects of interaction with Indigenous people and ethnological expertise for the participants of the workshop were highlighted by Julia Yakel, a lawyer of the Moscow Regional Bar Association, a member of the Public Expert Council of the Committee on Nationalities of the State Duma, the Federation Council, which has been protecting the rights of Indigenous people for more than 20 years. Alexander Basov from the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology n.a. N.N.Miklukho-Maklai of Russian Academy of Sciences spoke about the experience and specifics of ethnological expertise in Russia. In addition, the participants met with the heads of the local municipalities, which are home to representatives of such small Indigenous people as the Veps, to determine in practice how these communities depend on traditional activities and forest resources, as well as to develop general recommendations regarding the ways and procedures for interaction with Indigenous communities.
"In the framework of three workshops on social issues, the attendees received important information that will serve as a basis for companies in planning and organizing interaction with local communities and other stakeholders. Such work, as well as other production issues, should be planned and carried out on an ongoing basis using all existing and well-established mechanisms and resources of interaction with local communities. Only in this case, the companies will be able to involve the maximum number of stakeholders in this work. Workshops on social issues are very important not only for forest companies, but also for certification consultants and certification bodies, as there are few experts on social issues, and there is not enough information on how to fulfill the social requirements of the standard in practice. The workshops provided an opportunity to discuss and find common approaches to meeting these requirements in practice," says Olga Rogozina, Environmental Manager at Stora Enso Wood Supply Russia.
The first workshop in the series held in Arkhangelsk in June was dedicated to the implementation of the rights of local communities and Indigenous people in forest management practices. During the second workshop held in Olonets in August, the participants discussed practical issues of interaction between logging companies and local communities. As a result of those three workshops, expert recommendations will be developed for FSC Russia Technical Committee, which is developing a new FSC Certification National Forest Management Standard, which will help make the new standard more understandable for implementation in practice, and the observance of the rights of the local communities could be more efficient.
Preview and headline photos: (c) Cristine Tugova / WWF-Russia