2022 Letter from our Executive Director

June, 2022

Dear friends,

I just arrived back in the Bay Area after several weeks in Europe with a Malaysian delegation from Sarawak, where we spoke with EU officials about the serious problems with the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS). A few weeks prior, I was finally able to travel to Sarawak for the first time in over two years. Although the work never stopped during the Covid travel restrictions, being able to speak, plan, and celebrate with friends and colleagues in person has boosted everyone’s spirits, increased our resolve, and set us up for a great year ahead. 

The EU is an important destination for Malaysian timber. During the trip the Indigenous delegation was able to speak with representatives in the Dutch government, who indicated plans to review their use of Malaysian timber in public construction projects. Simply opening an inquiry into the Malaysia certification process would have a huge impact on the ground in Malaysia, and would send a big signal to logging companies, including timber giant Samling. The Netherlands is the biggest importer of timber certified by the MTCS, and an inquiry into the certification scheme will indicate that timber companies will no longer be able to get away with greenwashing their products for export. 

During the pandemic our coalition of grassroots organizations continued to increase the pressure on timber companies, spurring them to take drastic action. Last year Samling filed a defamation lawsuit against our local partners, SAVE Rivers, for a series of press releases highlighting the logging company’s failures to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent from the communities whose land lies within the timber concessions. This is a clear SLAPP suit – strategic litigation against public participation –  designed to put considerable strain on the defendant’s resources and stop dissent. And it has. SAVE Rivers has effectively been silenced from speaking out during the ongoing litigation. But luckily, our network is strong and we continue to speak out on their behalf. And even though our coalition is facing significant pressure on our time and finances, we’re not backing down. 

It’s thanks to our supporters like you that we’re able to stand up to corporate bullies and push forward. We might not have the same political ties or financial clout as the big timber corporations,  yet we’re having a big impact. Samling wouldn’t be pursuing this legal strategy if we weren’t. We’re exposing Samling’s greenwashing, changing the narrative, and empowering communities to fight for their land and forests. We are organized, efficient, and effective, and our legal team of top-notch human and environmental rights defenders thinks our case is strong. The first court date is currently set for September. 

In spite of the pressures of the SLAPP suit, we continue to grow and develop plans to build Indigenous-led forest protection in Sarawak. While we fight unscrupulous extractive industries with the one hand, we build resilience and capacity with the other. Plans are moving forward to establish the Baram Peace Park, a vision of community-protected and managed forests. Right now we are building capacity in communities and continuing to lay the groundwork for launching this project, which will be the first of its kind in Sarawak. 

Big thanks to all of you for supporting this work along the way, through lockdowns, travel restrictions, lawsuits, and more. The Borneo Project is 90% funded by individual donors, we could not do this work without you. 

In solidarity,

Jettie Word

Executive Director, The Borneo Project