This article investigates whether forest certification (eco-labeling) is likely to rectify certain omissions in the current global forest regime. Following an examination of the achievements and shortcomings of the forest regime to date, I argue that gaps could be filled by including a broad range of stakeholders in certification standards development; promoting strong environmental and social performance standards in forestry; providing effective control mechanisms; securing producer participation; and penetrating markets. Although the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was considered initially to have the greatest potential to fill these gaps, the emergence and widespread proliferation of industry-dominated schemes have marginalized the FSC in many countries. The study shows that while forest certification would probably promote more sustainable forestry in the temperate and boreal zones than it would in the tropical zone, the ability of this tool to actually do so remains to be seen.

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Author notes

I am grateful to Olav Schram Stokke for many valuable discussions and for providing direction in preparing this article. Thanks also to Alf Håkon Hoel, G. Kristin Rosendal and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and to Chris Saunders for excellent language editing. The work was funded by the Research Council of Norway.