By The Borneo Project, Bruno Manser Fonds and Keruan
LIMBANG, Sasrawak – Malaysian logging company Samling has lost its forest certificate for the Ravenscourt forest management unit, one of its certified natural forests under the Malaysia Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) in Sarawak.
Certification body Sirim withdrew the certificate after Samling failed to provide effective corrective actions for issues found through previous audits. These issues concerned non-compliance with the MTCS standard. Sirim suspended the certificate on 28 March and withdrew it on 11 July.
NGOs discovered that the Ravenscourt forest management unit had disappeared from the MTCS list of certified areas in July. In July and August 2023, NGOs repeatedly enquired about the certification status and the results of the last audit; however, Sirim did not answer questions about the withdrawal of the MTCS certificate. Only the Malaysian Timber Certification Council provided the information when asked.
The mounting pressure around Samling’s contested MTCS certification comes in the lead up to their court date for a defamation suit they filed against local indigenous grassroots organisation Save Rivers, which is scheduled to be heard from 18 September.
In the lead up to the trial, Samling has lost one of its most contentious forest management unit through the withdrawal of the Ravenscourt certificate. It has also faced increased international scrutiny, including a Forest Stewardship Council investigation, online petitions and email campaigns.
Last Saturday, civil society protested against Samling at the London Zoo, asking for an investigation into their practices. The SPOTT ranking of the Zoological Society of London assesses transparency of environmental and social policies of companies. Samling’s position has recently improved in the ranking. The Clean Up The Tropical Timber Trade campaign is demanding that the Zoological Society consider field evidence, rather than just paper claims of companies, and submitted evidence regarding Samling’s questionable practices on the ground.
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Penan communities affected by the Ravenscourt forest management unit welcome the cancellation of the MTCS certificate, as they have repeatedly expressed their disagreement with logging in the area.
Komeok Joe, CEO of Penan grassroots organisation Keruan, said: “From the end of 2022, forest certification is compulsory. Samling’s unwillingness to take effective corrective measures to live up to the certification standards shows they are unwilling to comply with the requirements. Consequently, we ask the Sarawak government to walk the talk and cancel Samling’s logging concession in this FMU for non-compliance. The Penan will consider any logs extracted from the area to be illegally logged.”
The auditing body Sirim is now itself under investigation by the Department of Standards Malaysia, the national standards and accreditation body.
NGOs had sent a letter to Sirim in July 2023 criticising its lack of action despite its auditors repeatedly finding violations of the MTCS standards regarding community consultations and inaccessible complaints procedure in the Gerenai forest management unit.
PEFC [Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification] International, which endorses MTCS for the global market, then submitted the letter to Standards Malaysia and requested an official investigation into Sirim.
Standards Malaysia confirmed the opening of an investigation soon after.
The 2021 recertification audit of the Ravenscourt forest management unit noted several standard violations such as not adequately consulting communities, not informing them of conflict resolution procedures, and not providing communities with reports and information.
The 2021 audit notes criticism regarding the omission of the Penan village of Long Tevenga, the absence of community use zones on Samling’s maps, the lack of Penan representatives in the community representative committee and the lack of transparency.
Which non-conformities and lack of action led to the withdrawal is unclear. There are currently no logging activities ongoing in the Ravenscourt forest management unit. – Borneo Project/BMF/Keruan