5 Mar 2024

Audits on forestry practices will improve, industry says

4:09 pm on 5 March 2024
Slash from the heavy rain in Gisbourne, June 2018.

Slash from heavy rain in Gisborne, June 2018. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

International attention is continuing to hone in on forestry practices on the East Coast - with promises audits around harvest practices will improve.

Most timber exports carry a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, indicating the trees were harvested in a responsible way. FSC is a globally acknowledged non-government body.

Following massive amounts of slash devastating East Coast farms and infrastructure after storms in 2017, 2018 and 2023, the FSC has been interested in how its certification system was run on its behalf in New Zealand.

Late last year, an independent assessor from overseas auditors Audit Services International (ASI) visited Gisborne to check on the forests on behalf of FSC and speak to people in the area, after locals and green groups complained.

ASI investigated the auditing practices of Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS) and Preferred by Nature.

The result was a damning report which found serious shortcomings in SGS and Preferred by Nature procedures on the East Coast.

In a statement, FSC said: "When it comes to the gravity of the findings, both certification bodies were issued four major non-conformities, just one shy of the threshold that could prompt ASI to consider a suspension of the certification body. Instances of certification bodies receiving such a significant number of non-conformities are uncommon.

"We note that ASI assessed the auditing that has occurred to be of a quality where a suspension was not warranted. While we prefer no non-conformities to be served, we also find it positive that the number of non-conformities did not reach the level where a suspension could be considered."

It said the certification bodies are now required to identify the root cause of the problems that led to the non-conformities and put measures in place to address these causes.

"Given the increased scrutiny the certification bodies will be under from ASI and the process that's in place to ensure they address the root causes of the non-conformities, we have full confidence that auditing practices will be brought into conformity - and if not, that the certification body will be suspended/terminated. Either way, auditing practices in the Gisborne region will improve."

Additionally the FSC said it would be inviting ASI and FSC auditors that operate in New Zealand to a "calibration meeting in the near future".

It said this would allow parties using the FSC system to provide exchange best practices for auditing in relation to current and controversial issues.