Fern (also Stichting Fern is a Dutch foundation created in 1995. It is an international non-governmental organization to keep track of the EU's involvement in forests and to coordinate NGO activities at the European level. Through its work, Fern aims to increase the political and economic opportunities for people to create a more balanced society in which human rights are fully respected and environmental and social values are fully integrated.
Although Fern is known for its work on forests, since 2000 Fern has widened its scope beyond forests to also include work on general aid, trade and climate issues, as many of the decisions made in these areas have a direct or indirect impact on forests and forest peoples’ rights. Fern campaigns fall within the following areas: forests and climate, forest governance, biodiversity offsetting, bioenergy, and finance and trade. In all these areas, Fern works very closely with a large number of environmental groups and social movements across the world.
Fern works as a non-hierarchical structure. Currently, the organisation has two offices (Brussels, Belgium; and Moreton-in-Marsh, UK) and sixteen staff positions.
Fern's official mission statement describes the organisation and its aims thus: Fern works to achieve greater environmental and social justice, focusing on forests and forest peoples’ rights in the policies and practices of the European Union.
Fern's origin lies in the World Rainforest Movement meeting in Penang in 1989. At this meeting Southern participants decided they needed closer co-operation with a network of like-minded European organisations to further their objectives. An already existing ad hoc European coalition of NGOs responded and adopted the name European Rainforest Movement. This movement changed its name into Forest Movement Europe in 1994 after linking up with the newly formed Taiga Rescue Network (1992) and widening its focus to all forests, including Russia.
As most NGOs of the Forest Movement Europe were working at national level, and increasingly trade and aid decisions that impacted on forests were made at EU level, it was felt by most in the movement that more attention should be given to influencing the EU institutions. Hence, in March 1995 Saskia Ozinga (formerly working for Friends of the Earth in the Netherlands) and Sian Pettman (formerly working for the European Commission) created the organisation Fern with a mandate to monitor EU activities in relation to forests, inform and educate the Forest Movement Europe about these activities and facilitate joint advocacy work towards the different EU institutions.
Starting with two part-time people in 1995, Fern has grown to an organisation with sixteen staff and its area of work has widened to include looking at climate change, carbon trading, finance, governance and development aid. Underlying issues such as lack of transparency, insufficient participation of civil society groups in decision-making at EU level and corruption are routinely addressed as part of all its campaigns.
Fern's way of working still reflects its origin, as in its activities the organisation aims to create ad hoc or permanent North-South, North-North or South-South NGO coalitions to jointly develop campaigns or activities, mostly –but not always- targeted at the EU institutions. Facilitation of the wider movement and supporting Fern's partners in the South remain Fern core activities.
Fields of activity
The organisation currently actively addresses many areas that have a direct or indirect impact on forests and forest peoples’ rights issues. To achieve its aims, Fern follows many conventional environmental organisation methods, such as lobbying politicians and attendance at meetings. In addition to these activities, Fern supports both Northern and Southern NGOs in putting their case to the EU institutions and, where needed, helps NGOs with fundraising and strengthening its advocacy skills.
Fern advocacy activities aim to link different movements and organisations and create effective networks to campaign on issues the organisation believes to be important. Among its advocacy activities FERN links issues, stimulates informed discussion and develops joint strategies in areas that are of critical environmental and social concern, in most cases, but not exclusively, focused on EU institutions. Some of Fern's most outstanding coordination and facilitation work is the organisation of NGO meetings on various issues, such as the annual Forest Movement Europe meeting.
Since 1996, Fern publishes a monthly bulletin entitled EU Forest Watch, specialised briefing notes and reports on selected topics (e.g. illegal logging).
Fern currently has six different campaigns. These are: illegal logging; forest certification; climate change; export credit agencies; European forests and biodiversity; and development aid. In all these campaigns, Fern works closely with environmental as well as social NGOs in Europe and the South.
Fern’s work on European forests and biodiversity works to ensure that existing EU forest-related and rural development policies are implemented to aid the restoration and protection of biologically diverse, well-managed forests in the EU as well as to ensure that international government policies will positively contribute to halting the forest crisis, by reversing the trend of increasing forest and biodiversity loss and addressing the underlying causes that lead to forest loss.
In addition to the work on European forests, other Fern campaigns tackle the underlying causes of forest loss outside the EU. The EC development aid campaign aims to improve the quality of EC aid so that it contributes both to the protection and sustainable use of forests and to ensuring respect for forest peoples’ rights. The illegal logging campaign works to ensure that effective measures are developed and implemented so as to allow EU Member States to control the import of illegal timber and to support processes for forest law reform in wood producing countries which will lead to legal and sustainable forest management. Fern’s climate change campaign aims to ensure that climate policies and international climate agreements address the root causes of climate change and deforestation and refuse carbon trading as an unsuitable approach to avert climate chaos and respect the rights of forest peoples affected by carbon trading and carbon 'offset' projects (see FERN's SinksWatch initiative).
Other Fern campaign is the Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) and finance and trade campaign, which aims to secure mandatory procedural environmental and human rights standards for European ECAs, set at a significant level, and drawing upon international 'best practice' standards and relevant EU legislation.
Some of the most visible Fern achievements include the rejection of the scientifically flawed concept of planting trees to reverse climate change (‘carbon sinks’) by the European Parliament; highlighting the undue and unjust influence by large companies on environmental and social laws in host countries when executing large projects, such as the Chad-Cameroon pipeline; improved integration of environmental concerns and demands for recognition of indigenous peoples rights’ into EC aid programmes and policies and the creation of networks of Southern NGOs to improve the quality of EC aid; the presentation by the Commission of an EU Action Plan to combat illegal logging followed by legislation to halt illegal timber imports; and successfully coordinating the European network for reforming export credit agencies leading to the adoption of environmental guidelines for export credit agencies.
Although are successes are foremost at policy level, they impact on local people's lives as most policy decisions trickle down. Some of FERN's successes have already reduced threats to local livelihoods as well as contributed to significant positive improvements. For example, Fern's work on highlighting the flaws in carbon sinks and direct correspondence with the CDM board, has led the CDM board to reject all plantation projects put to it, many of which such as V&M in Brazil, would have had serious negative impacts on people. Also, the EU Action Plan to combat illegal logging would not have been drafted without Fern. This Action Plan –if implemented properly- will create a leverage point to get customary rights accepted as 'legal' in countries as Indonesia, Malaysian, Ghana and Cameroon: the lack of recognition of these rights is arguably the most significant obstacles to poverty alleviation, justice and even democracy.
Moreover, the campaign on reforming ECAs has led to halting ECA funding and subsequently cancelling some projects, which would have had serious negative consequences for local people, such as in the case of the Ilisu Dam in Turkey which would have led to the replacement of around 80,000 people, with women suffering most. This was a clear success despite current attempts to revive the project.
Fern receives its money from private foundations and governments. In order to ensure its independence and impartiality, FERN has committed to not directly participate in the selection, award or administration of a contract when a real or apparent conflict of interest may be involved.