Our new report is titled “Lost in Certification: How forest certification greenwashes Samling’s dirty timber and fools the international market”. It is a comprehensive analysis of the most recent land conflicts in the Baram region of Sarawak. It looks at the most shocking community claims against logging company Samling and the failures within the timber certification process.
The report is 100 pages long, and we know not everyone has the time to read such a bombshell from top to bottom. So below we have listed some of the more jaw-dropping reveals in the report:
1. Indigenous communities have been trying to work the system for years, to no avail.
Indigenous communities have voiced their concerns about Samling’s logging operations for years, often under the banner of the #StopTheChop campaign. Communities have exhausted official complaint mechanisms with little impact. Even when audit reports repeatedly confirmed that Samling did not adequately obtain FPIC from communities, little was done. No entities take responsibility for conflicts, so complaints from communities end up going nowhere.
2. The claims of environmental degradation are huge
A massive area of almost 50,000 hectares of forest in the Gerenai Forest Management Unit — a logging area managed by Samling — is in the process of being clear cut and converted into oil palm plantations. This is in direct contravention of the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme’s own regulations. Yet the area has nonetheless been certified. It’s also in contravention of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil standards, a certification that all oil palm plantations in Malaysia are required to obtain. This is a really big deal and has left environmental campaigners gobsmacked as to how this could have happened.
3. The enormity of the claims questions the validity of the Malaysian Timber Certification System
SIRIM, the certification body and auditor for the certification scheme, does not have a clear limit on what constitutes grounds for withdrawal or suspension of a certificate. In theory, this means that communities and watchdogs can file innumerable complaints and the certificate could still be issued.
This is the case even if Samling does not address non-conformities or comply with the requirements of certification, which is what we have seen happen time and again. This is either an accidental administrative black hole or a deliberate loophole that places the interests of companies before the rights of communities.
4. Samling’s buyers are named for the first time
Samling has a ridiculously complicated corporate structure, with more than 65 connected companies. Their products find their way all around the world, to the EU, USA, Australia, Japan, and India. In the report, we’ve mapped out part of their supply chain. We found that Samling products can end up in several well known brands such as Muji, Masonite, and Roland Pianos.
Although enormous amounts of MTCS-certified ‘sustainable’ timber is exported from Malaysia to the EU, UK and Australia, import records for those markets are not public. Thus, it is incredibly difficult to identify which companies are buying from Samling. Community representatives visited the Netherlands (a key market) calling for a suspension of imports, and a campaign in the UK has joined the call to clean up the tropical timber trade.
5. Leaving Indigenous rights in the dust is the rule, not the exception
The report outlines how weak impact assessments and weak complaints mechanisms have created the perfect storm for discarding Indigenous rights. Our report is just one example of one company in one region of Sarawak. It’s indicative of a general status quo within the timber industry in Malaysia. Without reform, we won’t see an improvement.
6. Communities aren’t just filing complaints: they’re offering up solutions
Impact assessments and research can and are being done in new and impactful ways. We recently concluded the Baram Heritage Survey, a multi-year project in which 6 villages inventoried their communities and forests. Communities are working together with the Forest Department of Sarawak on the Baram Peace Park. They’re starting tree nurseries and reforestation projects, implementing regenerative farming techniques, and they’re working to protect their traditional reserve forests.
There is lots of hope to be found if you listen to communities and build projects from the ground-up, which is exactly what we do at The Borneo Project. You can donate to support this important work here — or if we have piqued your interest — feel free to read the full report here.