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Can REDD save the forests of Sarawak?

Can REDD save the forests of Sarawak?One year ago, Wetlands International released a report that revealed that the rate of deforestation in Malaysia’s province of Sarawak is about 2% a year. Most is being converted to oil palm plantations. “Total deforestation in Sarawak is 3.5 times as much as that for entire Asia, while deforestation of peat swamp forest is 11.7 times as much,” the report states.

To make matters worse, the rate of destruction is accelerating. Between 2005 and 2007, 1.89% of Sarawak’s forest was cleared. By 2009-2010, this figure had increased to 2.14%. The area of forest on peatland has decreased from over one million hectares in 2005 to around 700,000 by 2010.

The drivers of deforestation include conversion to massive oil palm plantations and hydropower dams. In June 2011, Survival International put out an alert about 1,000 Indigenous Penan who were to be evicted from their forest to make way for the Murum dam. The government had sold the land where they where supposed to move to Shin Yang, a Malaysian oil palm company.

For 31 years, Sarawak has been ruled by one man: Abdul Taib Mahmud. Since 1981, Taib has been chief minister, finance minister and minister of planning and resource management. But while Taib has become incredibly rich, the impact on the Penan and their forests has been devastating.

Sarawak Report and the Bruno Manser Foundation have been documenting the destruction and uncovering the corruption behind the deforestation and land grabbing in Sarawak.

In 2006, the US embassy’s Political Section Chief, Mark D.Clark wrote a cable to Washington (that was subsequently leaked by wikileaks: 06KUALALUMPUR1935) in which he reported on meetings with with political opposition leaders, human rights advocates and police in Sarawak. “[T]he Sarawak state government remains highly corrupt and firmly in the hands of its chief minister,” Clark wrote. One example of Taib’s corruption was the awarding of a contract for the US$82 million state assembly building, which was under construction at the time. Taib made sure that the construction contract went to Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), his own family firm. The state assembly only meets for 16 days a year. The 27-storey building will stand empty for the remaining 349 days.

The 2006 cable states that,

“Chief Minister Taib Mahmud remains unchallenged after 27 years in office, his government doles out timber-cutting permits while patrolling the under-developed state using 14 helicopters, and his family’s companies control much of the economy.”

A section of Sarawak Report’s website is dedicated to “Mapping Taib’s Land Grabs“. A vast area of land has been handed over largely for oil palm plantations and hydropower dams.

Two recent stories from Sarawak Report, help illustrate both the scale of the problem and the support that forest destroyers in Sarawak are getting in Europe. The first story illustrates how weak certification by the Forest Stewardship Council can be and the second how untrustworthy British politicians can be. The stories also raise the question, “Can REDD save the forests of Sarawak?”:


Sarawak Timber Scandal Hits UK – Expose!, 31 January 2012

B&Q and Wickes, two DIY stores in Britain, have been selling timber from Sarawak falsely labelled as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. (“Wickes and B&Q ‘selling wood felled illegally from rainforest'” read the headline in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper. The Daily Mail provides no evidence for the timber being illegally logged apart from explaining that the wood is “feared to have been illegally harvested from endangered rainforests”.)

The company behind the scandal is Asia Plywood Company, the largest exporter of Meranti wood and plywood in Malaysia. The company managed to get FSC certification by promising to import 70% of the timber that goes into its plywood from FSC-certified plantations in New Zealand. Sarawak Report points out that in fact the plywood from the Asia Plywood Company on sale in B&Q and Wickes was almost entirely made from tropical timber.

Asia Plywood Company’s website used to have the following statement (available via google-cache on 18 January 2012):

Asia Plywood Company also imports FSC certified timber species from the forests of New Zealand or MTCC certified woods that are locally sourced.

The words “FSC certified” have now been removed. Asia Plywood Company did have an FSC chain of custody certification, from 21 February 2006 to 20 February 2011, as this screenshot from SCS’s Certified Client List dated April 2010 shows (click on the image for a larger version):

(Incidentally, a company called Caledonian Plywood is still advertising “FSC hardwood plywood” with the Asia Plywood chain of custody number: SCS-COC-00805.)

B&Q was told about the false labelling on 7 December 2011, but continued to sell the plywood with the FSC label until 27 January 2012 when all Asia Plywood products were removed from B&Q’s shelves. Wickes just carried out selling the plywood. A Wickes representative told the trade journal DIYWeek, “[We] have not purchased any product from Asia Plywood since we were made aware of the withdrawal of its FSC certification on December 15 2011, at which time we re-sourced to an alternative supplier.”


UK Conservative Spokesman Made Video Promos for Sime Darby!, 29 January 2012

Bill Wiggin, the UK Conservative Party’s ex-Environment Spokesman, was flown to Sarawak as part of a PR drive for palm oil company Sime Darby. He starred in a ten-minute long PR video in which he praised Sime Darby for its sustainable operations. In the video, he explains that,

“The purpose of my coming here was to learn about the process, which I’ve enjoyed doing, but I kind of knew what was going on. It was really to support a company that was going hell for leather to hit that sustainability target, to encourage the people who are doing the right thing, to emphasise that we in the UK want to buy their product when they have gone to the trouble of making it genuinely sustainable.”

As Sarawak Report points out,

In fact, Sime Darby is the world’s largest palm oil producer and it owns vast plantations across Borneo in areas that used to be pristine jungle. Few of its plantations had been certified as being sustainable.
The company has also recently caused outrage and been forced to pay fines in Africa, where it is currently attempting to expand its operations, again at the expense of native people.

Wiggin declined to reply to Sarawak Report’s questions about his role in promoting Sime Darby. Sarawak Report notes that the company that arranged for Wiggin’s trip to Sarawak, FBC Media, was paid US$5 million by Taib to conduct “an illegal global media campaign against Sarawak Report”.

PHOTO Credits: Sarawak Report.

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  1. I have just attempted to contact Wickes with relevance to their misdeeds but their site is conveniently “unavailable” at this time.

    We must bombard Wickes as an initial measure and help the Sarawak voter’s remove their criminal Chief Minister….Economic boycotts always work!!!!

  2. Perhaps Norway’s Pension Fund should sell some of its Sarawak-based oil palm plantation shares, including the:

    $2.45 million in Sarawak Oil Palms Bhd
    $66.6 million in Sime Derby Berhad
    $6.8 million in TSH Resources
    $66 million in IoI Corporation Berhad

    Oh and the $6 million of shares in Ta Anne Holdings.

    That Sarawak is bearing the brunt of deforestation for oil palm in the world, it seems pretty hypocrytical that Norway is knee deep in Sarawak oil palm stock…

  3. @Dr. Nigel Miles – Thanks for your comment. I would suggest that the Forest Stewardship Council is also part of the problem here. There seems to be good evidence that since (at least) February 2011, Asia Plywood Company has been selling plywood fraudulently labelled as FSC certified. FSC’s reaction to this scandal has been pathetically weak. And this is not an isolated problem with FSC – see for more details.

  4. @Jago Wadley (#2) – Thanks for pointing this out. As far as I can tell, the only mention of Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global on Sarawak Report is about the withdrawal of Norway’s Pension Fund from Samling in August 2010. I’ll write to them to suggest that they might like to look into this in a little more detail…

  5. @Meng Chuo – The Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global has a Council on Ethics that is supposed to bestow “responsible investor” status on the Fund. It was they who commissioned the research into Samling Global that resulted in the fund selling the Samling shares. I advise you to compile a dossier of information Sarawak oil palm plantations linked to the companies I outlined in my above comments, and send them to:

    One does wonder how a “responsible investor” felt if acceptable to buy into Sarawak timber and plantations in the first place, given the allegations of corruption coming out of Sarawak.

  6. Nice article, and very interesting revelations. I fail, however, to see where the question of whether REDD can save Sarawak’s forests is addressed. Apart from one line in the middle, REDD is not even mentioned…

  7. @Darragh Conway (#7) – It was intended as a rhetorical question. It’s part of a series of articles on REDD-Monitor that ask similar questions: “Can REDD save … ?” The point is that if REDD is to work, it has to provide a mechanism for protecting threatened forest. And as far as I can tell, REDD provides no such mechanism – certainly not in the case of Sarawak.

  8. Presumably Wandsworth Council in the UK and the joint-administrator (which includes global accountancy group Ernst and Young) appointed to dispose of rights to “develop” the former Battersea Power Station in London took into account Sime Darby’s alleged record for abusing people’s rights and destroying tropical forest before accepting the offer of Sime Darby and its partner (SP Setia) and refusing the rival offer of Chelsea Football Club.

    Presumably no money is being laundered through this transaction.

    Governments (central and local) should not permit profits linked to crime (including social and environmental crime) to be used in acquiring assets – including football clubs – and should demand due diligence in this respect prior to approving acquisitions.

  9. I m putting up a propoal for 3 level scale of communiy based mixed agrofoestry (homstead family based, medium scale community group collective, and large scale communiy group JV with corperate plantation) toward transforming rural livelihood and land use tenure in Sarawak foucssing on increasing bamboo feedstock supply to stimulate bamboo industry for creation of wealth through the promotion of waste to eergy technology and sustainable bamboo production, A poject propose by UNIDO/FAO prtnership (UNDP-GIF5) project for 2012. Can anyone lad me to any example of similr proejct anywhere?