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Certification body SIRIM uses Penan rejection of logging as a reason to reinstate certificate - Penan ask Samling representatives and SIRIM auditors to leave.

(LIMBANG / SARAWAK) During the January audit of timber giant Samling’s Ravenscourt Forest Management Unit (FMU) in Northern Sarawak, the local semi-nomadic Penan communities boycotted the timber certification process. After repeatedly expressing opposition to logging and timber certification over the years without their territories being acknowledged as no-logging zones, they decided to no longer engage with the logging company nor its auditors or consultants.

After withdrawing the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) certificate of Ravenscourt FMU last July because of flawed engagement of the affected Penan communities, certification body SIRIM reinstated the certificate in December last year based on an appeal by Samling. For the January 2024 audit of the Ravenscourt FMU, the Penan communities of Long Gita, Ba Nyakit, Ba Peresek, Long Tevenga, Long Adang and Long Daun in the Limbang area sent a letter to Samling with SIRIM copied explicitly stating that they want their territories to be exempted from any logging and that their non-participation in consultations should not be interpreted as “tacit agreement” to logging or certification. SIRIM, however, justified the reinstatement of the certificate, saying that Samling’s engagement efforts - although unsuccessful - were sufficient, citing the communities’ resistance to participation as the reason for the reinstatement.

Komeok Joe, who has worked with Penan communities for decades in his role as CEO of the Penan organisation KERUAN, responded to SIRIM’s latest comments: “The MTCS guarantees the right of communities to decide themselves whether they want to delegate forest management as well as Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) defined as “consensus” of the community. To interpret the communities’ rejection of and non-participation in certification as a reason to go ahead is absurd. It reveals SIRIM’s lack of understanding of FPIC and their lack of interest in implementing it. If they promise FPIC in their standard, but just override communities’ decisions, they consciously deceive the international market with empty promises. They must deliver what the standard promises: No logging unless agreed by the local communities through FPIC.”

The Penan communities did request that the SIRIM auditors visit the area without their client, Samling, to independently review the situation, however this request was ignored. Ketua Baru, regional Penan leader from Long Gita, explained the Penan’s decision: “If SIRIM is sincere in their wishes to engage with our communities, they need to visit us separately from Samling. We are not willing to host Samling, the destroyer of our homes, in our villages. We are aware that Samling is not currently logging in our area, but we want our rights to be respected in the Forest Management Plan as it is the basis for logging activities in the coming years. FPIC means that our territories are marked and respected in the management plan.”

The Penan communities were not willing to receive representatives of Samling and the auditors of SIRIM: In Ba Peresek, the community asked them to leave and reiterated their rejection of logging. In Long Adang, Sirim and Samling were unable to visit the community as they were unable to cross the river to the village: the village refused to lend them their boats to cross the river to enter the village. The semi-nomadic group of Long Tevenga has so far evaded any attempts of contact by Samling, SIRIM or the government on certification.

Certification body SIRIM has been criticised before for their lack of independence: they rely on the company’s infrastructure, including vehicles and lodging, to audit FMUs. By conducting the audits together with Samling they are not seen as an independent body. Furthermore, they are directly paid by the clients they certify. This makes them financially dependent on companies like Samling. The flaws in the MTCS certification system are documented in the report “Lost in Certification” released late last year.


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