Why Ernslaw’s FSC Decision Raises More Questions Than Answers

Ernslaw One's certification was suspended on February 2nd, 2024, with RNZ's Climate Change contributor, Eloise Gibson, now seeking access to information leading up to the breeches.

Thu 22 Feb 24


The decision by FSC to suspend Ernslaw One, New Zealand’s fourth largest plantation owner, has left several questions unanswered, according to Eloise Gibson, RNZ’s Climate Change contributor.

Ms Gibson, who broke the story over the weekend, said the suspension came into effect on February 2nd and this morning wrote an editorial outlining the confusion and lack of transparency around the supposed breaches in environmental standards leading up to the suspension.

Upon reaching out to Ernslaw One – owned by the Malaysian-based Tiong family, SGS, a contractor responsible for certifying the forest managers’ forests, and FSC International, Ms Gibson was unable to see “what had caused the suspension,” nor was she able to, “ideally, see the audit” itself.

In the editorial, now available on the RNZ website, Ms Gibson said Ernslaw One was “not privy” to the findings, whilst SGS was “not in a position to further elaborate on specifics, as we have a duty to maintain our contractual obligations to our clients.”

SGS also implied some new information had arisen about Ernslaw that led to the suspension rather than any problems with SGS’ processes.

“From time to time, certificates validly issued may be suspended or revoked when new circumstances surface, for example, in the course of a regular surveillance audit or other control mechanisms provided for by the certification schemes,” they told Ms Gibson in a statement.

With FSC confirmed that they were “not informed” about the suspension or the rationale behind the decision, advising Ms Gibson its global assurance provider, ASI (which is wholly owned by FSC but operated separately), was looking into SGS and FSC-certifier, Preferred by Nature (formerly Nepcon), which certified PF Olsen’s forests in Tairāwhiti.

Farmers in flood-hit Tolaga Bay want forestry companies to put up $100m to help clean the damage done to their stock and properties by runaway slash. They’re also considering legal action – footage courtesy of @RNZVideo.

Wood Central previously covered this investigation and the communities leading for changes to slash rules in October.

Ms Gibson provided a portion of the statement below:

“ASI operates independently of FSC, and FSC does not direct ASI to undertake assessments. When and where assessments occur is solely the decision of ASI. Further, FSC is not informed about the outcome of assessments, and we, therefore, encourage interested stakeholders to direct any queries regarding the outcome of the assessments to ASI and/or the certification bodies.”

“Further, as the standard-setting body, FSC ANZ is not informed of the rationale behind the suspension of FSC certificate holders or certification bodies. Any inquiries about suspensions should, therefore, be directed to the suspended certificate holder and/or their certification body.”

“In other words, if I wanted the reasons, the statement says I should ask the certification body – SGS – and/or the suspended certificated holder – Ernslaw One – two companies that had already said no,” Ms Gibson said before adding that “FSC was able to give me one clue about the findings.”

“I had asked FSC if it was appropriate that Ernslaw had held onto its green labelling after being fined for breaking environmental laws.”

“FSC said this was “part of what ASI considered,” and I might find the answer when I perused ASI’s report. It helpfully offered to put my name down to receive a copy.”

“But it added that ASI had not published the report yet, and the outcome was “still not official.”

Part of the Oregon Group, it has a processing arm known as Winstone Pulp International, which manufactures lumber and pulp.

In December 2022, the business was ordered to pay NZ $225,000 for “serious forestry offending related to a storm event in Uawa/Tolaga Bay in June 2018.”

Up to 400,000m3 of slash-washed down hills, clogged rivers, and damaged properties – with 47,000m3 of the woody debris washed up on Uawa Beach after the 2018 floods, which, along with Cyclone Gabrielle, the southern hemisphere’s costliest cyclone, led the NZ government to introduce tight laws for forest slash.


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