ON the Forest Stewardship Council General Assembly kicks off, 33 NGOs and civil society groups from around the world have urged the ethical wood label to instigate serious reform of its practices.

Its tree-ticked logo is found on everyday products worldwide, meant to signify the wood and paper used in products - from milk cartons and toilet roll to car tyres and books - has been sustainably sourced, but critics argue the green label's standards have all too often fallen short.

The letter argues the FSC could be a powerful tool to protect and help restore the world’s forests and has had beneficial effects in some regions. However, it expresses urgent and serious concerns over a perceived failure to transform in response to the challenges forests face in the 21st century, and argues that it is increasingly serving to undermine rather than support its own stated goals.

The letter, signed by representatives of organisations including Earthsite, Rainforest Action Network and Natural Forest Foundation, reads: "Many others of our number are not FSC members, but have observed repeated failures of the FSC to assure the responsible sourcing, or even the legality, of products certified by it to consumers.

"Collectively, we have written reports spanning three decades that have shown how FSC’s systems have failed in every major forested region on earth, at every stage of the supply chain from tropical to temperate and plantation forests. We have heard accounts- from activists, whistleblowers, government officials, and insiders in the logging industry- of how FSC is failing to identify and address: corruption, logging in protected areas, large scale deforestation, disrespect of indigenous peoples’ rights and human rights abuses.

"Our focus on FSC has not been chosen but has been a natural consequence of our work. Increasingly, when we find suspect wood on sale in major markets like Europe and the US, it is FSC certified or being traded by FSC-certified companies.

"Both members and non-members have repeatedly called for the structural changes to prevent these bad practices occurring and hamstringing the effective working of FSC. These efforts have frequently been met with denial and defensiveness, as well as half-hearted, piecemeal changes by FSC, or stymied completely by vested interests. Individual scandals are treated in isolation, while underlying causes, and the suggestions on how to tackle them, are ignored.

"Many of the more meaningful steps taken by FSC, such as disassociations from companies, have usually only occurred as a result of independent civil society investigations, media coverage, and the close monitoring of FSC’s response to them.

"FSC today is losing relevance and is unfit for purpose."

Read the full letter here