Dutch government calls for investigation into Malaysian timber

Deforestation in Malaysian Borneo - Photograph: Rhett Butler/mongabay.com.

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By The Borneo Project

The Dutch government expects PEFC International to conduct an investigation into the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) following growing concerns about the sustainability of Malaysian timber entering the Netherlands under the Dutch mandatory timber procurement policy.

Malaysia and the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC), the developer of the MTCS standard, are at risk of losing the Dutch market, one of the key export markets, due to lack of proper control and unprofessional handling of grievances.

A preliminary investigation by a timber procurement assessment committee, an independent expert group advising the Dutch government, identified the lack of required transparency under PEFC/MTCS as a clear violation of the Dutch timber procurement policy.

The committee further found that MTCS might fall short of the Dutch procurement policy with regard to the complaints procedure, the implementation of free, prior and informed consent, conversion of forests and the lack of stop-work-orders while complaints are pending, amongst other issues.

Consequently, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management decided at the end of last year for the assessment committee to request from PEFC “substantive convincing evidence within a reasonable time that these issues are unfounded or to make an acceptable improvement on them within a reasonable time”.

The committee supports PEFC’s proposal to do a joint field visit.

In the report – published in January – the assessment committee criticised the lack of cooperation from MTCC, which did not engage with the committee beyond responding to one question in an email.

The committee also questioned “to what extent PEFC and MTCC have effective provisions and procedures for identifying and mitigating structural irregularities” in place. The committee’s criticism is that “PEFC – as the system operator – did not indicate that itself or any other entity would have an overarching and monitoring role in this” and stresses that buyers must be confident that PEFC-certified timber “meets all quality requirements”.

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In May 2022, an indigenous delegation from Sarawak held a series of meetings with decision-makers in the Netherlands on the unresolved issues around accountability, flawed consultations and deforestation, among others.

The case, however, began much earlier than that: in 2010, the timber procurement assessment committee assessed MTCS and concluded that the standard did fall short of the Dutch procurement criteria for sustainably produced wood with regard to indigenous rights, obtaining free, prior and informed consent, the conversion of natural forests and access to and quality of maps.

The MTCS was therefore not accepted by the committee, even though it already fell under the endorsement of PEFC. The MTCS remained under separate review of the committee in the procurement of timber.

However, government procurement under both systems has been allowed since June 2014.

In 2016, the assessment committee conducted a field visit to verify whether the outstanding issues had been resolved, but was severely restricted in access to sites and stakeholders in Malaysia. In its subsequent report, the committee concluded that the issues appeared to be solved on paper but could not assess the field situation.

In January 2017, the Dutch government accepted MTCS as complying with the procurement policy.

Since 2020, the Dutch government has placed the acceptance of MTCS under the umbrella of the endorsement of PEFC International. Regarding the raised concerns, however, PEFC must now provide evidence of the MTCS’s compliance to its own standard and the Dutch timber procurement policy.

Both ENDS, Save Rivers, Keruan, Bruno Manser Fonds and The Borneo Project welcome the decision by the Dutch government to further investigate the raised complaints with a field visit.

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Celine Lim, managing director of Malaysian indigenous grassroots organisation Save Rivers, said: “We expect MTCC and PEFC International to work closely with their Dutch counterparts as much as with civil society and affected local communities to resolve these problems. Until then, it is irresponsible to continue unlimited export of timber from controversial sources.”

Malaysian and international stakeholders are due to meet in Sarawak’s capital Kuching to discuss sustainable forest management, such as MTCS and PEFC, at a conference. – The Borneo Project

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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