Skip to main content

Forest Stewardship Council certification in adding participation of the Sámi in forestry decisions

April 14, 2021


Kaisa Pajunen


In this paper, a proposal is introduced for requiring Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for all large-scale forest owners and operators in traditional Sámi homelands in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Certification requirement would help to prevent violations of Sámi’s land use rights as Indigenous people. Forest industry and heavy logging threaten reindeer husbandry, in addition to having harmful effects on environment and biodiversity (Labba, 2020). FSC certification promotes sustainable forest stewardship with criteria focusing also on Indigenous rights (FSC, 2020a). The Saami Council is a member on FSC Finland, the Association for Responsible Forestry Social Chamber (FSC Finland 2019), which proves FSC certificates are congruent with Sámi values.


Recent debate over Sveaskog’s increased logging around the Sámi village of Luokta-Mávas has highlighted how Sámi rights continue to be violated in the use of natural resources. The Swedish state-owned company’s plans were projected to disturb reindeer’s winter pastures, as the amount of lichen would have been declined due to logging activities. However, in this case logging has been paused and negotiations have been started with the Sámi community. (Labba, 2020.)

Sámi are the only Indigenous group in northern Europe. They live on land across the four nation states, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. All four have laws to protect Sámi’s rights, even though there is considerable variation between different nation states. The destruction of forest is especially prevalent in Finland and Sweden, where forestry is one of the main pillars for national economies. Not surprisingly, there are many collisions with Sámi, whose land use is more based on traditional subsistence activities and reindeer herding. Luokta-Mávas is just one example of cases where Sámi’s interests collide with forest industry operators. 

Reindeer herding, in particular, is negatively impacted by extensive forest harvesting. Clear-cutting forests changes ecosystems of previously old and diverse forest into more plain commercial forests. This not only lessens biodiversity, but also disrupts traditional pasture cycles of reindeer. Lichen on trees is central for reindeer’s winter diet and it requires old forests to grow. (Sanders, 2015.) Even though many forest areas on Sámi traditional homelands are conserved, these areas are at a risk of becoming newly assessed under increasing logging targets (Saijets & Rasmus, 2017).

Logging in traditional Sámi homelands violates several different articles and principles. For example, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention 169 ensure rights to the land. Only Norway has ratified ILO 169, so in other nation states it doesn’t provide desirable protection for Sámi. Nevertheless, nation states also have several domestic laws to protect Sámi in each country. Despite these laws, Sámi’s consultation rights or rights to land use are often overpowered, and actions are only taken after Sámi demand them.

In terms of sustainable forest use, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is already widely used in the Nordic countries. The proposed Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificate, however, has a few crucial differences to PEFC. As a result, requiring this additional certificate would ensure better rights to the Sámi. FSC and PEFC are both established for good cause to ensure sustainable forest use. Comparing the two, FSC has more of a focus on social questions. One of its main principles is to cover Indigenous peoples’ rights. Both certifications are widely used around the world. (The World Resource Institute, 2020.) 

The problem with the voluntary nature of the certifications is that there is no guarantee that even large-scale operators would follow principles if they don’t have interests in applying the certificates to their products. Requiring that actors follow international standardizations across all Sámi homelands would bring their rights in different countries closer. It would also ensure that nation states themselves would need to follow standards set by a third party. In Norway, Sweden, and Finland the biggest forestry companies are state owned. 

Policy recommendations

The proposed policy would need to be separately agreed on in different nation states. That is why the Saami Council as an international operator would be the best Sámi organization to promote the policy. Either the Saami Council’s Arctic and Environmental Unit or Human Rights Unit would be the key facilitator on the matter. Choosing the unit would depend on the strategy the Saami Council would take, and whether they see forest use more related to their environmental values or human rights. The Sámi have used both discourses in response to forest exploitation in the past.

Through negotiations with the nation states, the Saami Council could push for state owned companies to be required to apply for FSC certification. FSC principles could also be in each nation state’s forest use strategy to guide all actions in the same, holistic direction. The Finnish Forest Government, Metsähallitus, for example, is currently composing new natural resource strategy for Sámi homelands 2022-2027, which would give Sámi negotiators a greater chance to influence policy before the strategy is fully accepted. For the other large-scale actors to follow, requirement for the FSC certification would need to be set regionally according to the Sápmi area. This would need to be implemented through a policy stating that large-scale commercial forest use can only be performed in traditional Sámi homelands if the company holds the FSC certificate. This would create pressure for non-state-owned companies to apply to the program if they were not involved already.

The Saami Council could also increase their role on the FSC side. They could pursue becoming members in each nation state’s FSC organization. Currently the Saami Council is a member of the Social Chamber in the FSC Finland – the Association for Responsible Forestry (FSC Finland 2019). For Finland, Sweden and Russia there are national Forest Stewardship Standards for each country. For Norway there is only the National Risk Assessment (FSC 2020b), so the Saami Council could internationally campaign to get Norway to also accept the FSC system and create National Standards.

Additionally, when each country’s national FSC standards are updated, they could be brought closer together. Understandably there are many differences in each strategy as nation states have different political and economic systems, but for more universal Sámi forests rights different national strategies could become more similar. For example, Sweden’s national standards are the most precise (FSC Sweden 2020) when compared to Finland and Russia (FSC Finland 2010, FSC Russia 2020). Components from the Swedish standards could be extended to these other nations.  

Throughout all of the steps of applying FSC standards in practice, Sámi’s rights to influence on forest use would improve. First, state owned companies would have new kinds of standards that would reinforce respect for Sámi’s rights as Indigenous peoples. In the best case the FSC requirements would be obligatory also for other large-scale commercial actors. Additionally, by editing each nation’s national FSC standards to become more similar to one another, policymakers would create a way for the Sàmi to have more similar rights regardless of which part of Sápmi they live in. 

Barriers to implementation

Implementing the proposed policy would be a long process. Given current political conditions, the Sámi in Finland might have the most immediate chance to achieve changes in the near future, if the policy was taken into negotiations of the new forest use strategy. However, there would most probably be resistance from many sides towards the proposed policy. 

As always, money would be one of the first questions. Making changes always go together with investments. Now investments would also be required from the private sector as non-state-owned companies would be expected to join new the standardization system. These kinds of investments that don’t increase profits are hardly taken voluntarily. The biggest question, I believe, would have to do with the future use of forests. A move away from clear-cutting forests and increasing the growing cycle time would, at least on a short-term, decrease profits achieved from the forest. When economic targets are high, this equation might be difficult for companies and government agencies to accept.

Taking a holistic approach to sustainable forest stewardship would be the first step towards looking beyond short-term profits from the forest. In a process of getting acceptance for the policy, research into possible outcomes should take place. Multidisciplinary research assessing economic, ecological, and social dimensions of the policy would be an opportunity to combine Sámi’s Indigenous knowledge into process. However, economic issues should be considered carefully and stakeholders from forest industry be heard, as forestry is essential for Nordic economies.

Other barrier could be the implementation of the policy in different nation states. Sámi in Russia are just one group of Indigenous small-numbered people, which presumably makes it more difficult to implement the policy in Russia than in the Nordic Countries. On a federal level the acceptance of a policy favoring one Indigenous group would not likely be accepted, nor would extending the policy to the whole Russian Federation.


All in all, acceptance of FSC certificates would be a long process. There is a definite need for clearer requirements to hear the Sámi when making forest use decisions, but there are also many barriers before changes could be made. In the end, requirements for the FSC certificate for forest industry operators in Sámi areas would guarantee Sámi better rights and lead to more sustainable forest use. FSC would be a third-party standardization and, therefore, completely separate from state-owned forestry actors. Still, it would be essential to have obligations also to non-state-owned large-scale forest actors so that the policy would not have loopholes. The policy could give the Saami Council a tool to bring rights of the Sámi in the different nation states closer together. In addition, the process would be a possibility to combine Indigenous knowledge with Western science, when making careful conclusions of outcomes of the policy. 


Forest Stewardship Council. (2020a) About us. Retrieved 16.12.2020.

Forest Stewardship Council. (2020b). FSC National Risk Assessment for Norway. Available at: Retrieved 16.12.2020.

Forest Stewardship Council Finland. (2010). FSC Forest Stewardship Standard for Finland. Available at: Retrieved 16.12.2020

Forest Stewardship Council, Finland. (2019). Governance. Retrieved 16.12.2020.

Forest Stewardship Council. Russia. (2020). The FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard of Russian Federation. Available at: Retrieved 16.12.2020.

Forest Stewardship Council, Sweden. (2020). The FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard of Sweden. Available at: Retrieved 16.12.2020.

Labba, Oula-Antti. (2020). Sweden must respect Sámi reindeer herders’ rights when conducting forestry. Retrieved 16.12.2020.

Saijets, Maiju & Rasmusen Linnea. (2017). Controversy over logging in Inari, Finland, about to escalate again. Retrieved 16.12.2020.

Sanders, Emily. (2015). Saami vs. Metsähallitus: The Case for Corporate Recognition of Indigenous Rights. Retrieved 16.12.2020.

The World Resource Institute. (2020). General characteristics of the two major systems for forest certification.  Retrieved 16.12.2020.