Forest Workers

The forest belongs to the workers, not multinationals

The future of Quebec’s forestry sector is uncertain for tens of thousands of workers and their families. While there has been some positive news for the industry lately related to the US housing market, more importantly a new dialogue offers hope for a socio-ecological revolution in forestry sector. Forestry cooperatives are taking the lead in thinking outside of the box that constrains the giants of the sector like Resolute Forest Products.  

An inspiring model

The recent open letter from the General Director of Coopérative forestière de Girardville is a great example of this change of mindset that will, I hope, inspire others. This new vision is built around ideas that promote diversification of forest products, more intelligent transformation of harvested trees, and puts high value on everything the forest has to offer. The Coopérative forestière de Girardville, which not only survived the forest sector’s worst crisis but managed to double its profits while keeping all of its employees, should be held up as a model to follow for Quebec, as well as for the rest of the world.

Pellets made from industrial leftovers for local heating (not electricity production or exportation), essential oils, berries, medicinal plants, resins, solvents, culinary products and advanced building materials are only a few examples of the huge potential that a well-managed and future-oriented forestry sector has to offer. With this approach, the harvested forest will lead to social and economic benefits that give more back to its users while protecting biodiversity. Combined with a large protected areas network, this ecosystemic approach to managing the forests allows companies to obtain environmental certification from the Forest Stewardship Council—the only credible certification and the one that the largest purchasers request—and gain a bigger share of the international market.

Now that’s a model to be proud of, one that turns over forest management to the workers in the forests and to all citizens of Quebec, not to the suits in Montreal and Wall Street.

The Resolute approach

Sitting in his office, the CEO of the biggest forest company in the country is making decisions that threaten not only our public forests, but that also risk thousands of jobs. While the workers on the ground have the forest at heart—no one wants to cut the branch they’re sitting on-- Richard Garneau seems resolved to not change the practices of his multinational company. 

Since the loss of three of its FSC certificates, on January 1, 2014, Resolute invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising and propaganda to try to restore its reputation. Nevertheless the rumours are growing that the company won’t make the effort to get its certificates back. The contrast with the model of the forest cooperatives is shocking. What a huge mistake it would be for our forests, job stability and the whole Lac St-Jean region’s prosperity. Let’s face it: the loss of contracts for Resolute is a much more important threat to workers than creating protected areas and protecting remaining intact forests, which are key to recovering FSC certificates in Lac St-Jean.

Meanwhile, the biggest forest union in the country has decided to target Resolute Forest Products for  pattern bargaining for contract talks this year. It seems clear that the main request from Unifor representatives should be that Resolute does everything in its power to get back its certificates on the 8 millions hectares of forest excluded in Lac St-Jean and Ontario. As one of the most important employers in Lac St-Jean, Resolute’s corporate decisions to maintain the status quo, confrontation with environmental groups and not respecting the FSC requirements impact thousands of families. 

Until then, and in solidarity with the forest workers, I am dreaming of the day when the giant Resolute will choose to pursue real sustainable development and invest in the future. Do you believe that’s possible?