(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 The letter questions why the MTCS certificate has not been revoked in view of Samling’s failure to remedy the situation after multiple years.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.
17 July 2023