Assuring compliance with our standards
Globally, around 850 Forest Management and over 11,000 Chain of Custody certificates have been issued, with more PEFC certificate holders joining every day.
All certificate holders need to be verified before they can receive their PEFC certificate and all need to be visited annually to make sure they continue to meet our standards. On any given day, around 50 audits take place globally.
This is how we assure that the certification process is robust and credible: separation of roles and reliance on proven ISO standards.
Separation of roles
Our assurance system consists of three elements, standard setting, conformity assessment and accreditation, which are strictly separated and independent from each other. In short: we develop, through multi-stakeholder working groups, the standards that a PEFC certificate holder has to meet, the certification body audits the certificate holder and grants the PEFC certificate, and the accreditation body checks the certification body.
We are a standard-setter or system owner. Our standards, developed by our stakeholders, set the rules for forest owners and supply chain companies who want to demonstrate sustainable practices/sourcing. However, we do not issue certificates to them; a forest owner or company is not certified by PEFC.
There is a common understanding that a system owner cannot issue certificates as this creates a conflict of interest: the system owner may like to issue as many certificates as possible. For that reason, we rely on independent third-party certification bodies to check for compliance and provide the PEFC certificate.
Independent certification bodies (CBs) issue PEFC certificates. They are independent from their clients, and from us. Furthermore, we only work with “PEFC notified” CBs. PEFC notified CBs have the necessary accreditation in place to demonstrate that they work according to PEFC and ISO requirements. This is how we ensure that PEFC certificates are issued by impartial CBs, who follow standardized ISO procedures and use competent auditors that have received regular PEFC training.
Before a certificate is issued to a forest owner or supply chain company, the CB will perform an audit to verify that all PEFC requirements are met. For forest management certification the audit includes stakeholder consultation, and the audit report needs to be publicly available.
During the audit, the CB may find that certain requirements are not met and they will issue a nonconformity. We require that all nonconformities are solved before a PEFC certificate is granted.
Once a certificate is issued it will be valid for maximum five years. During the validity, the CB will visit the certificate holder annually for a surveillance audit to ensure that the PEFC requirements continue to be met. After five years the certificate can be renewed following a successful re-certification audit. Again, all nonconformities must be solved before the certificate is renewed.
The last element of our assurance system is the oversight of certification bodies, called accreditation. Accreditation is carried out by an accreditation body (AB). Like a certification body checks a company meets the PEFC standard, the accreditation body checks that a certification body meets specific PEFC and ISO requirements. Through the accreditation process we have assurance that certification bodies are independent and impartial, that they follow our certification procedures and that they employ competent auditors.
At PEFC we do not have our own accreditation body. Like with the majority of ISO based certifications, we rely on national ABs under the umbrella of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). National ABs need to be a member of the IAF, which means they have to follow IAF’s rules and regulations. Like this, we even have a mechanism for overseeing accreditation bodies.
With this approach, we are the only global forest certification system that uses a truly independent oversight mechanism. The difference may seem insignificant, but where the oversight body and the system owner are not sufficiently independent, and the oversight body is not accountable to anyone, there is a risk of politically motivated decisions being made.
Training is an important part of our assurance system. We provide training to auditors and technical experts of certification and accreditation bodies. For chain of custody certification, auditors, reviewers and certification decision makers are required to attend PEFC recognized training in order to qualify, and once they are qualified, every two years and when there is a new issuance of the PEFC Chain of Custody or PEFC Trademarks standards. Through these trainings we can harmonize the certification body personnel's knowledge and keep them up-to-date on PEFC and our standards. This increases the consistency in auditing worldwide. It is also a good opportunity for us to receive feedback on the implementation and auditability of the standards.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) develops international standards for many fields. ISO has developed a series of standards with requirements for certification bodies and accreditation bodies. Compliance with these standards ensures that both CBs and ABs are operating sufficiently independent and impartial and they work according to specific procedures, using competent auditors. We only work with CBs and ABs that comply with the applicable ISO requirements. Some key ISO documents are the ISO/IEC 17011 (for accreditation) and the ISO/IEC 17021-1 and ISO/IEC 17065 (for certification).