For two decades, the Penan indigenous people have tenaciously defended their rainforest home against the constant incursions of logging companies. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, 90 percent of primary forests already have been logged. Now the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) has certified a private logging company to “manage” one of Sarawak’s last remaining primary forests, where over 400 Penan families live.
MTCC certification means that the Samling Plywood company will market wood from the Sela’an-Linau Forest as products from a “sustainably managed forest.” Environmentally conscious consumers will be pleased to purchase these products. But they are being sold a lie. An investigation by Greenpeace International found that MTCC certification “is not a guarantee of either legality or environmentally responsible forest management, and worse, MTCC timber may be stolen from indigenous peoples’ lands.”
The problem is that MTCC standards do not match up with standards established by the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC criteria for “sustainable forestry” are accepted worldwide. But MTCC procedures fall short by allowing illegal or non-certified logs to be mixed in with the logs from certified forests – so consumers can’t know what they’re getting. MTCC does not require independent tracking of wood from the forest to the sawmill, offering many opportunities for illegal timber to be mixed with legal. And MTCC ignores the FSC requirement of respect for territorial claims and land rights of indigenous peoples.
Since 1998, the Penan have been in a legal battle to win Native Customary Rights to about 50 percent of the Sela’an-Linau forest. Additional areas claimed by the Penan are currently being mapped. Since 2004, when MTCC certified the Samling Plywood companyto sustainably manage this forest, the Penan have effectively blocked Samling from entering their territories. The Penan have a 20-year history of erecting blockades against Samling loggers in the company’s previous concessions. In 1993, special units of the police and military forcibly removed over 1,000 protesting Penan, killing three and injuring over 200 people. The Penan celebrated an important victory in 2001 when their protests convinced the German government to withdraw funding from a Samling forest certification scheme, killing the project.
Under pressure from the government, most of the nomadic Penan settled into longhouses during the last 5 decades. They still rely on the forest for hunting and gathering and to maintain their cultural and spiritual traditions. In the settlements, the Penan suffer from malnutrition and water-borne diseases. Erosion from the logging operations turns their rivers to silt, killing the fish and spreading disease.
Penan leaders and villagers are demanding that MTCC revoke the certification it granted to Samling for management of the Sela’an-Linau Forest, and allow them to defend their claims for Native Customary Rights in court.
Samling’s certification was awarded by MTCC without due consultation of the Penan in one of the most disputed forest areas of Sarawak. Samling only gained access to the now certified area by relying on the use of police and military force. It is extracting timber against the declared will of the affected communities and threatening one of the last remaining primary rainforests of Sarawak. MTCC certification for “sustainable forest management” is flawed, and should not be recognized on the world market.
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