10 Things You Should Know

10. Have the needs of local communities or indigenous peoples been addressed?

It is estimated that nearly 500 million people, 200 million of whom are indigenous peoples, depend on forests for their livelihoods (Chao, 2012). Protecting and respecting the rights of local communities, indigenous peoples, and workers in the forests is an important part of sustainable procurement.

Along with environment and economics, social well-being is one of the three pillars of sustainability (Brack, 2010). Social issues cannot be ignored in sustainable procurement. If poorly managed, social aspects can lead to conflict between forest companies, communities, and governments with negative effects for all. For example, local people may suffer from inadequate or inappropriate measures to resolve conflicts. Bad publicity surrounding a conflict can damage a company’s reputation, and disruptions or delays in production can increase investment costs and cause loss of market share. Governments can face civil instability, loss of forest-sector revenues, and loss of investment opportunities (Wilson, 2009).

Initial processing of wood often occurs in remote and sparsely populated areas with limited job opportunities, social support systems, access to education, and infrastructure. These remote areas are sometimes beyond the control of government authorities. As a result, the leadership role in addressing social and governance issues can fall to forest companies. Values such as fair pay, employment benefits, job training, health and safety, and interaction with local communities are part of the social contract between employers and the communities in which they operate.

Social issues involve a variety of topics. They are included in the concept of sustainable forest management (Brack, 2010). Table 14 lists 15 specific issues grouped in six categories. The issues highlighted in bold are elaborated in the text below.

Table 14. Social issues relevant to sustainable procurement of wood and paper-based products
Rights of ownership and access
Issue Description
Explicit respect for the rights of indigenous peoples Includes the recognition and support of the identity, culture, and rights of indigenous peoples. Legal land ownership can also be included in this category. Legal land ownership varies from country to country. Some countries recognize the legal land ownership by indigenous peoples under national law, some retain state ownership while allowing access and management by indigenous peoples, and others do not recognize any rights of indigenous peoples. (See “Recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” below.)
Rights of local communities May or may not include indigenous peoples. Refers to the rights of forest communities to own and access forests. Communities may have access to and manage forests that they do not own. (See “Recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” below.)
Property, land tenure, access, and use rights Refers to the definition and protection of property rights, and land tenure and use of the forests by communities, governments, and forest enterprises. This issue is linked to the two previous issues. It can be especially contentious in countries (developed and developing) where communities have historical claims to land ownership. (See “Property, land tenure and access and use rights,” below.)
Recognition of customary rights Refers to indigenous peoples’ rights to regulate their access to and management of forests based on their customary laws and institutions. Although international human rights laws recognize these rights, the extent to which they are recognized in national contexts varies. Where customary rights are recognized by law, they can be in conflict with the civil or common law.
Protection of workers’ rights and conditions
Issue Description
Health and safety Includes health and safety standards in various international conventions and national laws. (See “Protection of workers’ rights and conditions of employment,” below.)
Other employment conditions Includes levels of pay, minimum wages, security of employment, and access to training, medical care, housing, and welfare benefits. These aspects might not be covered by international conventions such as those of the International Labour Organization (ILO). (See “Protection of workers’ rights and conditions of employment,” below.)
Rights of communities
Issue Description
Needs of local population, sharing costs and benefits Refers to the extent to which the needs of the local population, including sharing the costs and benefits from forestry activities, are taken into account in pursuing sustainable forestry management (SFM).
Compensation Commercial logging can have major negative impacts on livelihoods and quality of life in local communities. Companies can help compensate communities by providing employment, education and training, health care, and improved infrastructure, among other things.
Cultural, spiritual, and recreational issues
Issue Description
Maintenance of recreational and educational uses Includes cultural, spiritual, and recreational uses of the forests.
Protection of cultural and spiritual sites and values Forests fulfill many cultural and spiritual roles for forest communities; particular sites are often of specific cultural and archaeological value.
Process issues: participation in decision-making and access to dispute resolution
Issue Description
Participation Refers to the right of relevant stakeholders to participate in decision-making processes that affect the management of forests, or in dispute-resolution mechanisms. Relevant stakeholders may include local communities, indigenous peoples, workers and their unions, and, in some cases, interested civil society organizations and individuals. (See “Participation and access to information,” below.)
Access to information Refers to two rights: the right to demand government-held information (and some private information), and the right to proactively receive information. Access to information is an enabling right to public participation. (See “Participation and access to information,” below.)
Dispute-resolution mechanisms Access to fair and equitable mechanisms to resolve disputes among stakeholders, for instance, a dispute over access to the forest resources between the company and the local community.
Law enforcement
Issue Description
Law enforcement Similar to governance. Failure to enforce the law can undermine other rights.
Conflict timber Occurs when revenue from timber sales or concessions is used to finance the purchase of weapons and fuel armed conflicts. (See “Conflict timber,” below.)
Note: Issues in bold are explained further in the text below.

Source: Based on Brack, 2010.

Recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities

The rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to access forest resources, use forests, and receive direct benefits from development of forest resources are recognized by many international agreements (Table 15). However, the extent to which these rights are recognized at the national level varies. Some countries have laws that explicitly recognize the legal rights of indigenous peoples to access, use, and own forests; some retain national ownership of forested land while allowing access and management by indigenous peoples; and others do not recognize any rights of indigenous peoples. Even when rights are recognized, they can be violated through corruption; for example the community’s right to participation could be violated if a company bribes certain members of the community in exchange for a large concession without the consent of the full community. The rights of local communities and indigenous peoples are recognized in definitions of sustainable forest management within certification systems. Community forest enterprises, in which forest resources are managed directly by communities (Box 19: Community forest management and community forest enterprises), are examples of communities exercising their right to access, use, and benefit from the forests.

Table 15. Key international commitments and standards on social issues and forests
Issues Agreements Agreements Agreements Agreements Agreements Agreements
< Agenda 21 Forest Principles The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) Proposals for Action International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights Convention on Biological Diversity Something else I can't read
> UN plan for sustainable development, from the Earth Summit International, nonbinding, consensus on the management and conservation of forests, from the Earth Summit International non-binding proposals developed through a UN process to address a variety of forest issues International UN agreements to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms International convention to promote sustainable development focusing on biodiversity, started at the Earth Summit Description of the stuff I can't read
Ensure the participation of local communities and indigenous peoples and other major groups in the formulation, planning, and implementation of national forest policies. X X X   X  
Recognize and support the cultural identity, culture, and rights of indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent people. X X X X X X
Recognize multiple functions, values and uses of forests, including traditional uses, Develop and implement strategies for the full protection of forest values including cultural, social, and spiritual.   X     X X
Formulate policies and laws to secure land tenure of indigenous peoples and local communities. X X X X   X
Ensure that external trade policies take into account community rights.       X    
Recognize and support community-based forest management.     X   X  
Develop regimes for protection, use, and maintenance of traditional knowledge and customary use. X       X X
Capacity building of indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent people who possess resources to participate in agreements that apply SFM.         X  
Protection of workers’ rights including freedom of association, right to bargain, prevention of child and forced labor, equal remuneration, and protection against discrimination. X     X   X
Involvement of unions and workers in all processes for forest planning. X          
Source: Adapted from Forest Peoples Programme, 2004.

Property, land tenure, and access and use rights

Land tenure can be customary or statutory: the former is defined and adhered to by local communities land ownership and management as well as the right to access and use resources. Before the modern state, most of the world’s forests were either common property resources or under open access regimes; now most forests are controlled by a government agency on behalf of the state and there are often unresolved disputes between traditional communities and the state (Brack, 2010). In many rural areas in developing countries, the tenure of forested land is in a state of “legal pluralism” (multiple legal systems within a geographic area).

Tenure security is lacking when land tenure rights of local or indigenous communities are not recognized or are not afforded the same level of recognition as private property rights. In some areas, governments grant forest concessions where communities have long-standing claims to the land, leading to clashes between logging companies and local and indigenous communities. Many of these clashes have threatened livelihoods and human rights. Even in cases where land tenure is recognized, there can be distributional inequities regarding gender and ethnicity within the community. Land tenure is an ongoing struggle in some countries and one of the most difficult issues to resolve.

Forestry operations (logging and processing) should be mindful of tenure claims. They should know and follow the applicable land tenure rights regime, which may include community-based forest management systems.

Protection of workers’ rights and conditions of employment

The forest sector employs an estimated 13.7 million workers worldwide, representing 1% of the global workforce. This estimate may be low because it includes only formal workers whereas a significant portion of the forest-sector work can be informal or sometimes even illegal (ILO, 2011). Forests and forest-products manufacturing facilities are potentially dangerous work environments, characterized by high degrees of informality, illegality, low wages, and hazardous working conditions (ILO, 2011). Poor health and safety standards and violations of workers' rights can lead to unsafe work conditions, work-related accidents, reduced productivity, reduction of local benefits, discriminatory behavior, low wages, and an increase in the use of migrant and informal labor. International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and other international agreements, including the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises (OECD, 2011), cover several fundamental rights: freedom of association, free collective bargaining, equal remuneration, the prevention of child and forced labor, and protection against discrimination. Other variables to consider include job security, access to training, medical care, housing, and welfare benefits.

Workers’ rights and conditions tend to be more problematic in developing countries, where standards of labor rights are weaker (Brack, 2010).

Participation and access to information

Forest operations should include meaningful consultation with local communities and indigenous peoples. The consultations should include relevant stakeholders appropriate to the nature and scale of the operation, the type of ownership (public vs. private), and local legal regimes and customs. Other actors, including individuals, civil-society organizations, and non-local communities, who do not operate in the forests but who are affected by what occurs there, could also play an important role in defining, monitoring, and supporting forest management and protection.

Various international agreements, guidelines, and conventions, and even some national laws recognize the rights of other interested groups to participate, seek, and receive information, and the need to involve these stakeholders in participation and consultation processes.1 Furthermore, a number of bilateral agreements recognize and promote participation and access rights. As an example, the U.S.–Peru Free Trade Agreement includes provisions for collaboration to build capacity in Peru for various activities including increasing public participation in forest resource planning and management decision-making processes (Office of the United States Trade Representative, Government of Peru, 2006). National laws sometimes require access to information and participation in decision making in environmental impact assessments and in the permitting and concession processes. For operations with ISO 12000.1 certification, incorporating these rules into the environmental management system will be key (Foti, 2012).

Public participation is essential when there are major changes in land use, especially if tenure or access to the resource is insecure. For example, in Uganda, communities have reasonably clear individual and collective rights to land, making land rights relatively secure. As a result of secure land tenure, they are able to make longer-term decisions, encouraging greater sustainability. Although forest concessions can be nationalized through eminent domain, local communities must be provided adequate participation in the processes and ensured compensation for any land taken (Veit et al., 2008). If communities are stripped of land or forest assets, they have legal recourse. In contrast to Uganda, Ghana does not offer secure tenure to forest resources; all of the trees, even those on private land, belong to the state. However, Ghana‘s forest and wildlife policy promotes public participation in forest management as well as the sharing of benefits from such management, and it includes detailed provisions to facilitate access to information and relevant stakeholder participation (Ghana Forestry Commission, 1994).

Communities and business alike can benefit from engagement that is inclusive; mindful of the legal situation; includes monitoring, evaluation, and capacity building; and offers meaningful information distributed through appropriate channels (Anderson, 2011). The principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)2 can be described as “the establishment of conditions under which people exercise their fundamental right to negotiate the terms of externally imposed policies, programs, and activities that directly affect their livelihoods or wellbeing, and to give or withhold their consent to them” (Anderson, 2011). By definition, FPIC is a local and culture-specific process in which the communities themselves determine the steps involved. It is not possible to produce a universally applicable “how to” guide, but some work has been done in the context of REDD+ projects (Anderson, 2011).

Access to information, transparency, and participation enable concerned stakeholders to take action to curb corruption in the forest sector (Transparency International, 2011).

Conflict timber

Forests and forest products have been connected to violent social conflicts. In some case, conflicts arise when a government grants logging companies access to lands that have been occupied by local communities. In other cases, revenue from timber sales or concessions is used to finance the purchase of weapons and fuel armed conflicts. Although the practice is less common now, timber harvested and sold for this purpose has been termed “conflict timber” (Thomson and Kanaan, 2003). In some cases, loggers assist in trafficking arms and other goods. Additionally, forests are used as battlegrounds and place of refuge for armed groups, especially in remote areas beyond the control of the government (Schroeder-Wildberg et al., 2005). Timber linked to funding violent conflicts can enter supply chains without a designation of its point of origin.

Addressing social issues

Some companies address social issues and manage social conflict through their overall policy and management systems. Emerging best practices (compiled from Wilson, 2009) include:

  • Forging effective, equitable, and meaningful partnerships with other players, including the communities, civil society organizations, research organizations, and government.
  • Promoting constructive multi-stakeholder dialogue and capacity building to build a shared understanding of the rights and responsibilities of communities, government, and industry.
  • Promoting meaningful dialogue, beginning with the provision of on-time information using the appropriate channels.
  • Building company and community capacities to develop and implement effective conflict management procedures and processes within the company, and empower local communities to effectively understand and exercise their rights.

A number of efforts help address social issues in the forest sector. Yale University’s The Forest Dialogue (TFD), for example, has conducted several dialogues and produced documents relevant to social issues (Box 20: The Forest Dialogue).

Although forest certification systems address social issues differently, requesting certified wood is a pragmatic way for buyers to purchase products that are produced in a socially responsible manner. Certification requirements often involve a social impact assessment. Social impact assessments are seen as good practice to address social issues because they evaluate and highlight issues that may also affect the sustainability and profitability of projects (IFC, 2003).These assessments are commonly conducted in a number of industries, including mining and energy, and for public sector projects. Assessments identify both the positive and negative impacts of a project on local communities.

Numerous guidance documents and manuals provide instruction for how to complete social impact assessments (Table 16). These publications focus on specific industries or purposes, but include common themes. Some questions that social impact assessments should answer include:

  • What is the community context?
  • Will the operation increase or decrease employment and income for local communities?
  • Will the skills and knowledge of locals be enhanced?
  • Will the operation affect land tenure security?
  • Will the operation prevent the local community from accessing and using forest resources and botanical medicines?
  • Will the operation adversely affect the sustainability of the area’s natural resources?
  • Will there be an effect on the community’s food security?
  • Will the operation cause or contribute to social conflicts?
  • Will there be an effect on inequality in the local community?
Table 16. Guidance on social impact assessments
Selected guidance publications Author Focus
Good Practice Note: Addressing the Social Dimensions of Private Sector Projects International Finance Corporation Private sector projects
Social and Biodiversity Impact Assessment Manual for REDD+ Projects: Part 2- Social Impact Assessment Toolbox Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) REDD+ projects
Database of Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact Foundation Center Private sector projects
Social Impact Assessment of Resource Projects International Mining for Development Centre Mining and energy sector projects
A Comprehensive Guide for Social Impact Assessment UN Public Administration Network Development projects
Good Practice Guide: Indigenous Peoples and Mining International Council on Mining and Metals Mining sector projects
Akwé: Kon. Voluntary Guidelines for the Conduct of Cultural, Environmental and Social Impact Assessments Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity Development projects; impacts on sacred sites or areas traditionally used by indigenous peoples
Manual for Social Impact Assessment of Land-based Carbon Projects Forest Trends, CCBA, Fauna and Flora International and Rainforest Alliance Land-based carbon projects

Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIAs) are emerging resources that could be used to evaluate risks and impacts on social issues such as access to information, forced migration, and labor conditions. HRIAs build on environmental and social impact assessments, and focus on links between policies and human rights to assess potential, current, and future impacts. For more information about HRIAs, visit the Human Rights Impact Resource Centre3, and see the International Finance Corporation’s Guide to Human Rights Impact Assessment and Management (Abrahams and Wyss, 2010).

Good governance underpins almost all of the social issues covered in this section. Some of the most serious social issues occur in places where corruption is prevalent; law enforcement is weak; and there is a lack of transparency, access to information, and public participation.

Factors to consider regarding social issues

  • Logging concessions may have been granted in areas where local and indigenous people claim property rights. This is a potential concern in many post-colonial countries.
  • Logging and timber processing is dangerous work that is often conducted in remote areas where compliance with accepted social laws and standards (e.g. safety training, underage or illegal labor, unfair pay) might be difficult to monitor and verify. Consider partnering with local organizations to better understand the social context of the operations.
  • Beware of logging operations that may be run by the military with proceeds used to finance war-like activities.
  • Social issues arise in both natural forests and intensively managed forest plantations.
  • Local civil-society organizations can facilitate business relationships between community forest enterprises and buyers.
  • Participation is important to the “social contract” between forest companies and communities. In some cases, and to some extent, community participation might be required by law; all relevant stakeholders have the right to receive a reasonable response.
  • Consider the use of a social or human rights impact assessment to better evaluate the social context and the possible implications of the operations on communities.

As in other aspects of sustainable procurement of wood-based products, tracing the production chain back to its beginning will help assess the risk and opportunities associated with social issues. In some areas monitoring and verification have important roles to play.

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1 See the Rio Declaration, the OECD’s guidelines for multinational enterprises, and the European Union Sustainable Forestry Initiative (UNEP, 1992; OECD, 2011; European Commission, 2003).
2 Informed consent is not a new concept, but the application of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, focusing particularly on indigenous peoples, derives from the ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples (Lehr and Smith, 2010).
3Human Rights Impact Resource Centre, www.humanrightsimpact.org.