National civil society stakeholders
The multistakeholder process to negotiate a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) involves a range of civil society groups, which represent diverse interests and work on issues related to, among others, tenure, environment, livelihoods, rights and transparency.
Many civil society groups are nongovernmental organisations, but others may be community organisations, indigenous peoples, faith groups or workers' unions.
Civil society groups vary in their capacity to engage on issues, present their concerns, organise, share information and develop negotiating positions.
Civil society groups may need training or funding to help them access information and participate fully in a VPA process. Links with international nongovernmental organisations and/or donor agencies may help local groups participate, organise meetings and make their concerns heard.
In some countries, civil society platforms and other stakeholder structures help organise and promote the interests of civil society groups.
However, a challenge for civil society stakeholders is to develop a representative platform that captures the interests of all members and communicates with one voice. Platform members must reach a consensus on issues despite diverse priorities and differences of opinion.
Some groups with particular interests, such as groups of indigenous peoples, may create their own platforms rather than participate in a broader civil society platform.
Viewpoint. Elijah Danso on what a VPA could mean in Ghana
"From the start, we saw FLEGT as a possibility to enforce reforms, like competitive bidding and transparency for concessions, and changing ownership rights to forests in favour of farmers. We need power at the local level. If the VPA doesn't deliver that, it will be a failure."
Elijah Danso is a social activist and forest consultant in Ghana / Source: Pearce, F. 2012. Forest Stands: How New EU Trade Laws Help Countries Protect Both Forests and Peoples. FERN. 24pp. [Download PDF]
Examples of civil society participation in VPA processes
Ghana. The VPA process in Ghana illustrates how a change in the government's attitude to civil society yielded positive outcomes. When the VPA process began in 2005, a coalition of more than 35 nongovernmental organisations, called Forest Watch Ghana, had no seat on the VPA steering committee.
When civil society representatives raised the issue, the government invited Forest Watch Ghana to join the committee. To broaden representation, the coalition created a contact group comprising community groups, traditional authorities, unions, media and research bodies. Two representatives of this group then joined the steering committee.
The steering committee also created a policy committee and working groups. These drafted the VPA annex text on legality definitions and standards, verification and licensing, domestic market regulation and timber industry restructuring. The contact group had representation in all of these groups.
Indonesia. Civil society organisations were involved in a process to develop Indonesia's timber legality assurance system before VPA negotiations began in 2007. Since then, civil society organisations and individuals have had representation in the national VPA negotiating team and in technical working groups. They have successfully lobbied for a role as independent observers.
The role of independent observers, called independent monitoring in Indonesia, is integral in Indonesia's timber legality assurance system. Civil society representatives have requested that the VPA annex on public disclosure of information ensures that they have access to data that enables meaningful independent observation.
Groups that perform the role of independent observer include JPIK, the Indonesian Independent Forestry Monitoring Network. JPIK members include more than 60 organisations and more than 300 individuals across Indonesia.
Liberia. The Liberian VPA process is distinct from other VPA processes in that communities have their own platform for discussing issues and their elected representatives are members of the VPA steering committee.
A network of local groups, the Community Forestry Development Committees, formed in 2008. As a result, when VPA negotiations began in 2009, there were already channels for community-level involvement, which the government supported. The Community Forestry Development Committees encouraged wide community involvement in the VPA process by broadcasting messages about FLEGT in regional dialects on local radio.
Seven community representatives and four members of civil society organisations, such as the Foundation for Community Initiatives and the Sustainable Development Institute, had seats on Liberia's VPA steering committee. While communities had no representation on the national negotiating team, which had one seat for civil society, they could attend negotiations and were able to voice opinions.
Republic of the Congo. Civil society groups involved in the VPA process played an important role in securing legislation giving new rights to indigenous peoples, including equal access to education and health care. Passage of a new law on the rights of indigenous peoples had stalled until civil society groups made promulgation of the law a condition of their participation in VPA negotiations. The law, the first of its kind in Africa, is now embedded in the VPA.
Related sections of VPA Unpacked
Capacity4Development. 2013. Civil Society Shares Their Experience of the VPA Process at FLEGT Week 2013. [Read online]
Jeffree, M. 2014. FLEGT forest power to the people. Timber Trades Journal Online October 2014: 48–49.
Pearce, F. 2012. Forest Stands: How New EU Trade Laws Help Countries Protect Both Forests and Peoples. FERN, Brussels, Belgium. 24pp. [Download PDF]