Certification system

FSC has established a certification system that requires the support of several third-party actors to operate it on the ground, maintain independence and integrity, and ultimately ensure sustainable management of the world’s forests.

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FSC certification system


The main actors

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ISEAL Alliance is the global membership organization for credible sustainability standards. FSC and ASI are audited at regular intervals against ISEAL requirements.

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The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a forest certification scheme owner. That means FSC develops standards for sustainable forestry, promoting them and cooperating with all relevant stakeholders for implementation. FSC does not issue certificates; instead this is the role of independent and accredited certification bodies issue certificates

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Assurance Services International (ASI), is FSC’s global assurance provider  whose mission is to assure the credibility of voluntary sustainability standards and initiatives to deliver social and environmental impact. ASI oversees the certification activities of certification bodies to make sure that standards are implemented correctly on the ground according to the normative requirements established by FSC. 

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Certification bodies: Independent organizations who are accredited to issue and manage FSC certificates. They manage the entire certification process from pre-certification evaluation and issuing of certificates, through audits and investigations, to suspension or termination of certificates, if necessary.

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Certificate holders: Organizations that have received FSC certification from a certification body after fulfilling all the requirements set by FSC’s certification standards. These organizations get the right to make claims about FSC certification on their products and use the FSC trademark logo by entering into a trademark license agreement with FSC. 

How does the certification system work?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) sets standards for forestry operations that want to conform with sustainable forestry requirements including good management practices, and for producers and traders of forest products who want to source from these suppliers and communicate this to their customers. In addition, FSC sets standards for certification bodies to follow during their evaluations of organizations’ conformity with forest management and chain of custody standards.  FSC’s standards on certification bodies, forest management and chain of custody form the foundation of the certification system.

Actors in the FSC certification system each play a key role in getting products from the forest to the market; as well as ensuring the protection of forests for future generations. Certificate holders conform with the requirements set by FSC in the certification standards. In conforming with FSC standards, certificate holders ensure that their forests and forest sector products are sustainably and responsibly sourced and managed, thereby yielding environmental, social and economic benefits.

Certification bodies carry out the forest management and chain of custody evaluations that lead to FSC certification. They also conduct audits to ensure that certificate holders continue to conform with FSC’s certification requirements. If they do not conform, then their certification body may suspend or terminate their certificate, and FSC may block them from the system – read more about it here

Just as conformity of certificate holders is checked by certification bodies, certification body performance is also checked by an independent third party; Assurance Services International.  ASI carries out annual checks on the certification bodies through office-based, remote and field assessments. If a certification body does not conform with the required standard, then ASI may suspend them. For more information about certification body assessments, please click here.

Impartiality, accountability & transparency

Impartiality is one of the fundamental principles of any credible certification scheme and addressed in detail by relevant FSC requirements, which are largely adopted from the International Standardization Organization (ISO).

There are strict rules in the FSC system governing the relationship between certification bodies and certificate holders. These rules are set in the FSC standard General Requirements for FSC Accredited Certification Bodies. The standard sets specific requirements as to how certification bodies are to operate and conduct themselves when performing their audits with organizations that wish to be FSC certified.

Impartial certification decisions require a process of reviewing the audit report prior to decision taking. This means that a certification decision is based on the recommendation of an auditor and a review of the audit process by another technical expert who had not been involved in the audit.

FSC has no say in the fees that certification body request from their audited entities. However, the general fee schedule of certification bodies must be publicly available. In addition, all FSC forest management audit reports are publicly available for transparency purposes.

FSC requires certification bodies to have a committee that safeguards impartiality and supervises that it conducts itself in accordance with FSC's ethical standards. One important task of the committee is to identify and prevent any tendencies which would allow commercial or other interests to influence the impartiality of the certification decisions.

To investigate and ultimately prevent any allegations of corruption, FSC has a diligent complaints procedure that can be used by any stakeholder to raise their concerns.

For more information about FSC’s certification system, refer to this report.

For questions, please contact psu@fsc.org

Learn more about how we protect our supply chains

Together with FSC, ASI manages the integrity risks to the FSC certification scheme so that FSC’s sustainability standards are implemented correctly on the ground, and consumers know that FSC’s sustainability claims can be trusted.

FSC works with ASI to identify, address and manage risks in supply chains through investigations. These investigations begin with a reported incident, which is then compiled by topic to scope out a transaction verification loop. ASI assesses and prioritizes these incidents and decides to either follow up directly where evidence is sufficient (through scheduled assessments), or to recognise patterns that allow targeted oversight in high-risk areas and topics, respectively. 

For more information, visit our page on supply chain integrity.



  1. How are FSC and ASI independent from each other?

    FSC develops standards while ASI verifies the conformity of certification bodies with FSC’s standards. The assurance services provided by ASI are guided by procedures and requirements developed by FSC. FSC does not provide funding to ASI, aside from payment for the services provided to FSC as a client.

    Thus, ASI is independent in its operational and accreditation decisions. It has its own accreditation normative framework, which is applicable to all certification schemes that ASI works with.

  2. What is ASI's relationship with certification bodies and with certificate holders?

    ASI has a contractual relationship with certification bodies, not with certificate holders. ASI will report the shortcoming to the certification body and verify that the certification body takes appropriate actions following the certification body’s decision making processes. Importantly, certification bodies have to evaluate the information provided by ASI. In the case of disagreement or variances in interpretations, certification bodies have means to challenge ASI's position or seek formal clarification from the certification scheme owner, i.e., FSC. In no case is ASI in a position to suspend a certificate holder or to directly request corrections from a certificate holder– this can only be done by the certification bod. For more information about ASI’s relationship with certificate holders, click here.

    Document Centre

    The following resources are relevant:

    There are strict rules in the FSC system governing the relationship between certification bodies and certified organizations. The standard sets specific requirements as to how certification bodies are to operate and conduct themselves when performing their audits with organizations that wish to be FSC certified.

    FSC-STD-20-001 General requirements for FSC accredited certification bodies

    There are further standards that describe how the actual audits are conducted (i.e. describing the process for stakeholder consultation and transparency).

    FSC-STD-20-007 Forest management evaluations

    FSC-STD-20-011 Chain of Custody Evaluations