22 Apr 2024

International auditor to do more checks after damning East Coast report

10:31 am on 22 April 2024
Slash at Gisbourne's Waikanae Beach

Slash pictured at Gisborne's Waikanae Beach in early 2023. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

An international forestry auditor has spoken out about a visit to the slash-damaged East Coast region last year.

German-based Assurance Services International sent an auditor to the region to review the work of two auditing companies - Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS) and Preferred by Nature - which are responsible for overseeing East Coast forests.

The result was a damning report highlighting many non-conformities in auditing practices.

The visit was in response to public concern over the level of damage caused by forest slash after severe storms in 2017, 2018 and 2023.

ASI Global programme manager David Grunelle has just spoken out about what was found, saying the work was severely below acceptable standards.

Each year, they highlighted about 400 cases of poor management practices worldwide - about 58 of those were deemed to have non-conformity issues to a major level, but the New Zealand companies were at the most serious end of offending.

"The ones we found in New Zealand were severe enough to trigger some sanctioning straight away, which is not something we enounter that many times a year.

"We would probably encounter the situation from one to five times a year. And we will not be able to close those non-conformities until they demonstrate to us that not only they understood the issues well, but that they implemented [changes] correctly in their systems any corrective actions and not only corrected in the short term, but also that their systems will prevent the audits to have this type of issue in the future."

Slash debris after flooding in Tolaga Bay.

Slash debris after flooding in Tolaga Bay, in 2018. Photo: RNZ / Emma Hatton

ASI will not instruct the two auditing companies what changes to make to their systems, because it needs to remain impartial, but it expects to see the non-conformities resolved withinin three months of the report being issued.

The companies can ask for an extension to complete the work.

Asked what he thought of the situation in New Zealand, Grunelle said: "Ideally ASI - we would be able to render our work completely unnecessary, so whenever we find issues we are concerned."

He thanked the New Zealand public for taking an interest in the auditors' work.

Grunelle said because of the scale of the issues on the East Coast, ASI would come back later this year to check out other forest auditors around New Zealand.

"Just to make sure that the rest of New Zealand is okay and other conformities assistance bodies that were not assessed in New Zealand recently are also good. So we're going to make sure everything is okay."

International audits of New Zealand-based companies were part of a normal business routine, but ASI said it was increasing its reviews in response the findings here.

As a result of the visits made late last year in February, Malaysian-owned Ernslaw One lost its internationally-recognised Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which indicates trees were harvested in a responsible way.

On 28 March, a second Gisborne forestry company, Aratu Forests, had its FSC sustainability accreditation suspended by SGS.

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