Environmental auditors approve green labels for products linked to deforestation and authoritarian regimes
Major environmental auditing firms ignore or fail to recognize glaring environmental damage caused by loggers and other clients whose practices they certify as sustainable, undercutting an elaborate global system meant to fight forest destruction and climate change. With alarming frequency, the auditors and so-called certification firms validate products linked to deforestation, logging in conflict zones and other abuses, according to an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 39 media partners. ICIJ found that many companies declared as sustainable forestry operations that fell well short of their own claims or voluntary standards. For instance, a Brazilian wood products company operating in the Amazon claimed that it was “certified with flying colours” despite having been fined 37 times since 1998 for stockpiling and transporting wood without legal documentation, among other violations. A Japanese forestry company in Chile sourced timber from suppliers that used documents containing false information on the origin of the wood. A group of Canadian logging companies used a “sustainable forest management plan,” certified by a local auditor, to cut down trees in Indigenous forestland, drastically altering the community’s territory and way of life, according to a court ruling. Since 1998, more than 340 certified companies in the forest products industry have been accused of environmental crimes or other wrongdoing by local communities, environmental groups, and government agencies, among others. About 50 of those firms held sustainability certificates at the time they were fined or convicted by a government agency. Such cases are almost certainly undercounted, in part, because many government databases of environmental crime don’t identify the companies responsible.