Amid new official reports that confirm community claims, civil society calls for SIRIM to cancel timber giant Samling’s MTCS certificate for the Gerenai Forest Management Unit in Baram
(MIRI / BARAM / SARAWAK) This week, five civil society and community organisations called on SIRIM QAS International Sdn to revoke the MTCS certificate for Samling’s controversial Gerenai Forest Management Unit (FMU) in the Baram river basin. In light of recent developments, the groups sent a letter to SIRIM today, questioning the body’s independence and effectiveness in assessing compliance with the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS).
SIRIM touts itself as “Malaysia’s leading testing, inspection and certification body.” After pushed by civil society to publish the latest auditing reports on the Gerenai FMU, SIRIM published an audit report that confirms the claim that Samling has committed recurring Non-Conformities with MTCS. The 2019, 2021 and 2022 audits all confirm that the company has failed the community engagement requirements — a crucial Indigenous rights safeguard — on multiple counts. The letter questions why the MTCS certificate has not been revoked in view of Samling’s failure to remedy the situation after multiple years.
Today, July 17th, SIRIM is starting the next Surveillance Audit on the Gerenai FMU. The signatories to the letter question why they should participate in stakeholder consultations yet again. All previous audits confirmed the issues the groups brought forward — without any consequences for Samling. “How many human rights violations will it take for Samling to lose its certificate?” the letter asks. “What amount of non-compliance by Samling will amount to a suspension or revocation?”
The Non-Conformities listed in the SIRIM reports are the same issues that are the subject of a defamation lawsuit that Samling has brought against local group SAVE Rivers, which seeks an extraordinary RM 5 million in damages. The audit reports confirm communities who spoke out against the company were truthful in their claims, and that SAVE Rivers was accurate in reporting Samling’s failings.
“Samling surely now has no leg to stand on in its vexatious attack, and should immediately withdraw the lawsuit against SAVE Rivers,” said Jettie Word, Director of The Borneo Project. “It is outrageous that SAVE Rivers is being sued for reporting the exact same problems about free, prior and informed consent that the auditing body also reported.”
The letter also questions SIRIM’s independence: “We are questioning whether certification bodies paid by the company they have to assess are independent enough to provide fair and impactful assessments. This is a grave bias in the system that puts the global reputation of SIRIM and MTCS and PEFC at risk…it appears that SIRIM is incapable of guaranteeing FPIC as required by the MTCS standard and as part of MTCS’ conformance with PEFC.”
Samling is currently under investigation by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) regarding violation of FSC policies, including alleged illegal logging, violations of traditional and human rights and destruction of high conservation value forests.
Excerpts from the audits:
In the public summary of the stage 2 audit from 2019, SIRIM’s auditors concluded: (1)
“…consultation was not sufficient. Majority of the communities were not aware of the
objective and function of Community Relation Committee (CRC) which is yet to be
established.” (page 8)
Major NCR against indicator 2.2.2
Based on the surveillance audit from 2021, SIRIM concluded: (2)
“Majority of the local communities don’t understand Forest Certification process
including the objectives and meaning of FMU operation including formation and
objectives of CRC or FMCLC as there were lack of clear disclosure from the FMU. There
was also inadequate community engagement, involving prior and informed consent from
the communities on the FMU certification process affecting the duly recognized legal
and customary or Use rights of the communities.” (page 9)
Major NCR against indicator 2.2.2
“Majority indicated the inadequate engagement, consultation and identification of the
customary rights of the indigenous communities within and surrounding the FMU and
meeting was held only with community leaders and headmen. There was insufficient
involvement of the larger community at the village level. (…) records of dialogue and
consultation held with communities and relevant stakeholders on the documented
customary rights of indigenous people was not available.” (page 14)
Major NCR against indicator 3.1.2
Based on the surveillance audit from 2022, the auditors concluded: (3)
“The consultation held with local communities to identify and document areas
traditionally used and sites of significant importance to them was not conducted” (page
Major NCR against indicator 2.2.2 reissued
“It was noted the engagement with communities within and surrounding the FMU on
customary rights or user rights of lands and resources was inadequate. The engagement
with communities was limited to community leaders. In addition, there was no record of
delegation control with free, prior and informed consent to other agencies and/or parties
available.” (page 12/13)
Major NCR against indicator 3.1.2 reissued
MU-2nd-Surveillance_2022-1.pdf – Notably this audit report lacks the section on corrective
actions that such reports usually contain.