ASI tells their invisible story: We are more than travelling assessors

Opening the first round of side events on Monday morning at FSC’s General Assembly, Accreditation Services International (ASI) gave an insight into the work they do besides auditing certification bodies.

By Morten Brodde, FSC Denmark

“More simply, accreditation is the answer to the questions: Who audits the auditors? Or who certifies the certifiers?” This is what ASI does in the words of Michael E. Conroy. ASI is FSC’s accreditation body responsible for checking certification bodies’ compliance with FSC’s rules and procedures.

“Good intentions are not enough”
Most people may think of ASI as an organization with assessors auditing certification bodies and travelling around the world. At today’s ASI session a team of ASI employees gave the attendees insights into the invisible part of their work, that people maybe don’t know.

Guntars Lagūns, ASI Managing Director, started the session stating that “good intensions of responsible forest management are not enough, but need to be put into practice and be credible through consistency, transparency and innovation.”

ASI Program Manager Matthias Wilnhammer went on to explain how these good intentions are put into practice when it comes to consistency:

“We want to let each CAB (also known as CBs or certification bodies) know how well they perform in comparison to other CABs. This is important to help them improve. And it is also important for us to tell FSC how well the overall system functions and if there is need for improvement.”

For this purpose ASI has developed a CAB performance system to evaluate each certification body’s internal management system based on four key elements: Internal audits, impartiality, organizational structure and dispute management. Based on data received each CAB is rated as a good certification body (above standard conformance), a conforming certification body or a certification body below conformance having some major or minor non-conformities in relation to the key elements.

Reporters of incidents crucial to improve the FSC system
Angeline Robertson, ASI Dispute Coordinator, then explained the role of ASI’s system for handling incidents, which is used to improve the FSC system and create positive impacts.

“Every day we encounter valuable information form CABs, from FSC as scheme owners, from the national offices, through media reports and from certificate holders. They are all important reporters of incidents.”

The information ASI gets from various sources is collected and analyzed in order to find out where the risk of incidents is highest and to detect trends and problems that ASI and FSC need to address. This can for example lead to suspension of certificate holders and other responses.

The last speaker from ASI, Sönke Fischer, ASI Strategy Director, presented ASI’s initiative to enhance transparency for stakeholders in an innovative way. This is done through an online reporting platform that aims at creating consistent reporting, reducing data entry and giving better access to data. The data can show challenges with both conformances and impact.

Should FSC allow more accreditation bodies?
In the end of the ASI session ASI board member and individual FSC member Michael Conroy commented on motion 59 that proposes that FSC allows competition between independent third-party accreditation bodies in order to improve the accreditation system.

The rationale behind the proposal according to the motion description is, among others, that CABs should not be restricted to ASI but have more choices and that the current setup with one accreditation body is a risk to FSC. Michael Convoy expressed that it would be a mistake to open up accreditation to a variety of other accreditation bodies:

“Not only will we lose global consistency, we will also create an incentive for CABs to turn to the accreditation body that is easiest, least demanding or least expensive.” According to Michael Conroy it will also make it “almost impossible to maintain the global evaluation of CAB performance.”