(Berkeley, US / Basel, Switzerland) A groundbreaking 100-page report released today by US-based NGO The Borneo Project and Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fonds reveals critical cracks in Malaysia's government-endorsed Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS). The report entitled "Lost in Certification: How forest certification greenwashes Samling's dirty timber and fools the international market" compiles years of evidence from Indigenous communities in Malaysian Borneo impacted by the logging industry.
Despite timber giant Samling’s significant conflicts with Indigenous communities and repeated acts of environmental degradation, its logging operations in the Malaysian state of Sarawak continue to be certified as "sustainable" by MTCS. This allows Samling's timber products to be sold on the international markets under the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) green timber label.
The report outlines in detail how Samling’s ongoing breach of certification standards has continuously failed to result in adequate improvements, with very little consequence.
When complaints against Samling were lodged by Indigenous communities in accordance with the MTCS grievance procedure, the complaints were routinely ignored, resulting in no meaningful impact. One particular area of interest has been the Gerenai Forest Management Unit (FMU) in Sarawak's Upper Baram region. Instead of accepting community complaints against its logging operations, Samling ignored them and later resorted to issuing legal threats against the communities and a supporting grassroots NGO.
In blatant contravention of the MTCS standards, a massive area of around 50,000 hectares of forest in the Gerenai Forest Management Unit is currently in the process of being converted into oil palm plantations. The findings call into question the role of certification bodies in the context of Sarawak’s commitment to preserve its forests and combat climate change.
The report also names some of Samling’s international buyers for the first time and traces its exports around the world, lifting the veil on its convoluted corporate structure, which obscures its dubious record on the ground from its buyers. The structure reveals how Samling products can potentially enter the EU, US, and Australia markets through brands such as Masonite, Muji, Roland, and Daiken.
The findings cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) and the PEFC in guaranteeing standards and enforcing compliance. SIRIM, the crediting and auditing body, does not have a clear limit on how many issues of non-compliance lead to suspension or revocation of certificates. The MTCC has no mechanism to ensure their standards are enforced. Consequently, trust in certification schemes has been seriously eroded, and the legitimacy of timber products carrying the MTCS and PEFC labels are questionable at best.
“We know that the government of Sarawak is making real and concerted efforts to protect their forests. But the way that MTCS is currently functioning simply cannot guarantee any of the standards they claim to uphold. The system needs to be reformed,” said Jettie Word, Executive Director of The Borneo Project.
Lukas Straumann, Executive Director of Bruno Manser Fonds, said, “We expect that Samling’s MTCS certificate for the Gerenai Forest Management Unit be suspended with immediate effect.”
The report lays out 15 key recommendations for improving the system with a focus on reforming the grievance procedure and properly obtaining Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from affected communities. In particular, it calls for the immediate suspension of Samling's MTCS certificate for the Gerenai FMU as well as for a moratorium on and an independent review of Samling's logging operations in contested areas.