31 Jan 2012

Sarawak Timber Scandal Hits UK – Expose!

Sarawak Timber Scandal Hits UK – Expose!

This post is also available in: Iban, Malay

Sold as cheap plywood - this is how Sarawak's precious remaining hardwood is ending up in UK store

Two of Britain’s top chain stores have been caught out deceiving their customers over ‘eco-friendly’ wood by our latest Sarawak expose, which has also been taken up by the leading UK paper, the Daily Mail.

We can demonstrate that B & Q and Wickes, which both specialise in selling building and decorating materials, have been knowingly selling wood from Sarawak, falsely labelled as responsibly sourced.

In fact, the accreditation agency, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), has not certified any Sarawak timber, because of the greedy and unsustainable nature of the logging promoted by Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and his business cronies.

The chain stores, which have hundreds of UK outlets between them and are leading brand names, now face potential prosecution under Britiain’s consumer laws for misleading their customers.

How the story was told in the UK

The Daily Mail explains to its readers:

“Environmentalists are particularly worried about the accelerating destruction of the Borneo rainforest, which threatens the orang-utan with extinction, along with an irreplaceable eco-system of rare creatures and plants.

At particular risk is the rainforest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, where corruption has in recent decades led to deforestation”.

Asia Plywood Company Sdn Bhd

Asia plywood proudly announces on its website that it is the largest exporter of Meranti wood from Sarawak and specialises in top quality tropical plywood! This is its photograph of logs being loaded on the Rajang River

The cheats behind the scandal is a Malaysian company called Asia Plywood Company, which openly advertises as the largest exporter of Meranti wood and tropical plywood in Malaysia.

The company boasts a large sawmill in Tanjung Manis, which it rents from the company Tegas Kesuma, from where it is believed to be exporting 10,000 cubic metres of timber each month to its headquarters in Kedah.

Despite this, the company managed to get FSC accreditation last year by pledging that at least 70% of the content of its finished plywood was now being sourced from New Zealand plantation pine.

Stamps and labels on the sheets of plywood displayed in the stores

The UK supplier Finnforest has imported tons of this material into Britain (around a quarter of the output), offering it at well below the normal market price for genuine sustainable plywood.

The boards are all stamped with the Asia Plywood Company brand name, alongside the FSC logo and certification.  They also all bear stickers claiming it is “wood from responsible sources”.

Consumers in the UK and elsewhere rely on certification by the FSC (the most respected authority) to reassure them that they are not doing damage to the environment, which is why the stores are so keen to be able to display that their wood is eco-friendly.

This is the stamp of approval from the FSC, bearing the logo of Asia Plywood and the company's HQ address in Kedah

B&Q and Wickes snapped it up, leaving genuine FSC products struggling to find an outlet.  However, the low prices of this supposedly sustainable plywood caused suspicion amongst timber experts, who knew that genuine plantation pine costs far more to produce.

Keeping consumers happy - these labels were still stuck on the plywood in both Wickes and B&Q long after the stores knew they were actually misleading.

Their inspections immediately revealed that the plywood was in fact almost completely made up of tropical hardwood, such as meranti wood – exactly the material which is being exported in such large quantities by Asia Plywood Company from Tanjung Manis.

Sadly, this fast disappearing Sarawak hardwood, which should be worth much more than pine, is being sold off cheap because of Taib’s policies.

His licences permitting rampant logging mean that Europe and America no longer want to buy Sarawak wood, because of the rainforest destruction.  Yet, his crony timber barons are cutting them anyway and selling them off cheap to cheats like Asia Plywood.

Cover up!

According to our information, the timber experts alerted the FSC to the situation towards the end of last year.  The authority immediately suspended Asia Plywood’s licence and conducted an investigation. On 6th January the FSC’s investigation agency, Scientific Certification Systems(SCS), concluded:

“Our investigation found that the FSC products sold by Asia Plywood between February 25th, 2011 and present are not FSC certified and should not carry the FSC label or any marks that indicate that the material is certified.

We have requested that Asia Plywood remove the FSC label from any products that they have in stock and that Asia Plywood request the same of the customers to whom they sold these products”. [SCS statement]

Sustainable pine-based plywood from New Zealand or 'Superior Grade Tropical Plywood' from Sarawak?

The FSC also confirmed it had removed its accreditation from the cheating outfit, Asia Plywood Company, meaning that the company can no longer brand its wood with their logo.

However, it was at this point that the two UK stores and the FSC also acted in a way that many would also find culpable.

The stores decided not to remove the labels as requested and the FSC failed to take any steps to make them, despite concerns that customers were therefore being mislead.

Asia Plywood's store in Tanjung Manis

Their later excuse was that the FSC legal department had concluded that because the wood had been believed to be eco-friendly at the time it was bought by the stores, they could continue to sell it to customers under that label.  This was despite the fact that the stores now knew that claim was false!

Embarrassing questions for FSC

That decision by the FSC raises serious questions about the integrity of the accreditation agency and also its legal judgement.

How could it be ruled that because B&Q and Wickes had been conned they could legitimately pass on that con to their customers and sell the wood under false pretences? Also, did the fact that B&Q acted as one of the key ‘partners’ in setting up the FSC result in the authority’s dubiously lenient stance on this matter?

Until the day the stores were challenged by the Daily Mail and Sarawak Report both Wickes and B&Q continued to promote the wood as a sustainable product to their unwitting customers, instead of peeling of the sticky labels that claimed the plywood came from “Responsible Sources”!

Conning customers?

Loaded off in containers to line cupboards and drawers around the world

The reason why the stores did not want to peel off the labels seems clear.  Most responsible buyers in the UK take care to only buy products that have been labelled by the FSC, because they do not want to encourage the wanton destruction of rain forests like the Borneo jungle by ruthless and greedy individuals like Taib Mahmud.

Likewise, stores like B&Q and Wickes take great pride in advertising that nearly all their products are certified as being sustainably sourced.  Indeed Kingfisher, the owners of B&Q have won a number of recent awards in recognition of its responsible approach to the environment.  The company boasts:

“Our businesses sell a high volume of timber and products made from or containing wood. Therefore the choices we take regarding which wood products to stock can help protect the world’s forest resources while reducing our impact on climate change. B&Q UK was one of the pioneers of responsible timber sourcing, helping to set up the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in the early 1990s…

The reported volume of timber sold in our stores that comes from proven well-managed forests or recycled sources reached 81% in 2010/11 – up from 77% the previous year and ahead of our target of 75%.”  [Kingfisher's Corporate Responsibility webpage]

By removing the FSC sustainability logos from the Sarawak sourced plywood, therefore, B&Q not only faced putting off customers, but would also have been forced to admit that a lower percentage of its products are sustainable!

Panic reaction

Still on sale until yesterday's story!

Once the stores were faced with exposure they immediately moved to defend themselves.  B&Q within hours began to strip the wood from their shelves, claiming that after they were called by the Daily Mail “new evidence had come to light”!

Wickes on the other hand tried to claim that it was better to continue to sell the wood, rather than waste it by destroying it!

“Its better to use the dodgy wood than throw it” [Jeremy Bird, MD Wickes]

What the Managing Director of Wickes failed to explain, however, was why it was necessary to continue to lie about the wood in order to sell it.  Why not peel off the labels claiming it was sustainable?

Emotive - how the Daily Mail communicated the effects of logging in Borneo to the British public this week

The question now is whether Britain’s trading standards authorities are likely to agree with the strange legal advice from the FSC and the decision by the stores to misrepresent their product?

Once again it seems, the corruption boiling in Sarawak has broken out to compromise others elsewhere.

But, at least attention In Britain has now been drawn to the scandal of Asia Plywood and to the extent of Sarawak’s deforestation.  Action should now be taken to prevent Taib’s timber cronies from selling more of the state’s diminishing hardwoods to the UK under the guise of eco-friendly labels.

  • Money Laundering 101

    Inland Revenue Board really making spoof joke of itself when its own HQ was built by bunch of Ali Baba Crooks Cronies

    Talk about taxman sleeping with crooks!

    _____________________

    Ali Baba Projek Title: Proposed National Tax Academy branch campus, Kuching, Sarawak

    Cost: RM140 million

    Main Contractor: Javel Engineering / KACC Group / Bustari PBB Goons

    Sub-Contractor: Perbena Emas / Pansar Group Ali Baba 10 persen

    _____________________

    A. Maklumat Syarikat: :

    Company Name : JAVEL ENGINEERING SDN. BHD.

    Address : 7H-I, 3RD. FLOOR BAN HOCK ROAD

    Postcode 93100

    Town : KUCHING

    State: SARAWAK

    D. Maklumat Ahli Lembaga Pengarah:

    Bil Nama Warganegara Jawatan

    1.AHMADI BIN YUSOFF MALAYSIA PENGARAH

    2.DRAHMAN BIN SAIT MALAYSIA PENGARAH

    3.MOHAMAD NADZIFF BIN BUSTARI MALAYSIA PENGARAH URUSAN

    4.MOHAMAD ZAIDEE BIN ABANG HIPNI MALAYSIA PENGARAH

    H.Maklumat Projek:

    Bil Tajuk Tarikh Anugerah Nilai (RM) Klien

    Akademi Pencukaian Malaysia Cawangan Timur 18-07-2008 RM 140,000,000.00

    _____________________

    National Tax Academy branch campus in Kuching

    By SHARON LING

    KUCHING: The Inland Revenue Board’s (IRB) National Tax Academy will open its first branch campus here, with two more later in Malacca and Sabah.

    IRB chief executive and director-general Datuk Hasmah Abdullah said the campuses were needed as the academy’s main campus in Bangi, Selangor, could no longer accommodate the increasing number of staff and officers who needed to be trained.

    “Opening up branch campuses will help us achieve our vision of becoming a tax administrator of international standards by allowing us to continue pro*ducing highly-trained and skilled staff,” she said at theground-breaking ceremony for the campus at Jalan Tabuan here on Friday.

    See this: Hasmah showing Taib (centre) and assistant minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Larry Sng a model of the National Tax Academy’s branch campus in Kuching.

    The ceremony was performed by Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.

    Hasmah said the academy had been set up as the IRB’s training arm to produce staff who were highly disciplined, professional, competent and knowledgeable in carrying out their work.

    She said the academy had also opened its training courses to the public and international participants besides offering a number of courses in part*nership with overseas insti*tu*tions. This included the Orga*nisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Commonwealth Association of Tax Administration, the Japan International Coo*peration Agency and the Australian Tax Office.

    The RM140mil branch campus is expected to be ready in July 2010.

    Located on a 1.78ha site, its facilities will include an administration and academic block, multi-purpose hall, auditorium, hostel, staff quarters and computer lab.

    It will also house the Kuching investigation and intelligence office.

    When completed, it will be able to accommodate 300 trainees and 120 staff at any one time.

    ______________________

    Tax academy in S’wak likely to be ready by year-end

    Bernama News, March 3, 2010, Wednesday

    KUCHING: The Malaysian Tax Academy Sarawak, the Inland Revenue Board’s (IRB) training institution, is expected to be ready by year-end.Sarawak IRB director Romli A Hamid said the Academy, expected to cost RM124 million, will be used to train staff in the field of taxation and management to enable them to undertake duties in a professional manner.

    “Construction work on the Academy on a 4.4-acre site in Jalan Tabuan here, began in 2008 and is proceeding to schedule, with the completion date set for this November.

    “The intake of IRB staff to undergo training is expected to begin next year,” he told reporters after a gathering of Federal Agencies in Sarawak at the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar here yesterday.

    Romli said the Academy will have an administrative and academic block,investigations branch as well as hostel.

    The Malaysian Tax Academy Sarawak is the IRB’s second.

    Its pioneer Academy is in Bandar Baru Bangi, Selangor and began operations in September 1984 to reinforce the knowledge and expertise of officers, in meeting the demands of a dynamic tax system.

    Meanwhile, Romli said the IRB Sarawak has targeted to collect RM2.9 billion in tax for this year, compared to the estimated RM2.85 billion for 2009.

    He also said the IRB would enhance its online service as well as the security of information, apart from enhancing its other electronic services from time to time, to ensure the level of delivery to taxpayers is guaranteed. — Bernama

    ________________________

    The taxman has a university dream

    by Lim How Pim, Borneo Post, Friday January 13, 2012

    FIRST IN EAST MALAYSIA: Mohd Shukor (centre) and others react after the opening of Malaysian Tax Academy Kuching.

    KUCHING: Malaysian Tax Academy Kuching – the first of its kind in East Malaysia – will be run like a university offering tax-related courses for the community.

    Inland Revenue Board chief executive officer Datuk Dr Mohd Shukor Mahfar hoped the academy would gradually be recognised by professional bodies at both national and international levels.

    “It is a dream of mine that the academy will be able to produce graduates and have its own convocations.

    “We all share the dream of turning the academy into a regional hub to train experts in taxation based on international standards,” he said when opening Malaysian Tax Academy Kuching at Jalan Tabuan here yesterday.

    Mohd Shukor said the academy would help instill a sense of pride and ownership into their personnel in the city and the state in general.

    “I take pride that Malaysian Tax Academy Kuching, the first and so far the only taxation training institution in East Malaysia fully recognised by the government, will emerge as a landmark in Sarawak.”

    The academy, he said, would move towards producing and grooming officers who could portray high quality and competency in discharging their duties.

    The first academy in Bangi is capable of housing slightly over 200 trainees at any one time. Thus, the Kuching campus built at a cost of RM140 million should help address the congestion. Sitting on a 4.4-acre land, Malaysian Tax Academy Kuching has a 124-room hostel, 11 lecture rooms, an administrative block, a multipurpose hall, an auditorium, surau, parking and sport facilities

    Mohd Shukor believed that these facilities would satisfy the needs of both trainers and trainees. He also placed high hope that the academy would play a pivotal role in the nation’s human capital development which in turn would help in the growth of Malaysia’s economy.

  • aborium

    The Western model of development based on industrial growth and expansion is no longer tenable because it requires increasing and never ending use of the Earth’s resources to which there is a limit supply and fast depleting. To address this limitation, sustainable development models have cropped up to address development issues and strategies which recognize “the vital relationship between biological resources, well-functioning ecosystems and economic development at multiple levels”.

    At the community level, the most venerable are the indigenous groups where biological resources and ecosystems are vital for their continuing survival and existence. Endogenous means ‘growing from within’ and you don’t need to be a development expert to figure out that the more communities are self-sufficient, the less dependent they are on the government. Politicians don’t like this because they want communities to be continually dependent on them. “Development” – whose agenda is it anyway?

  • aborium

    Points to Ponder:

    “Today we find ourselves faced with the imminent end of the era of cheap oil, the prospect (beyond the recent bubble) of steadily rising commodity prices, the degradation of forests, lakes and soils, conflicts over land use, water quality, fishing rights and the momentous challenge of stabilising concentrations of carbon in the global atmosphere… In these circumstances, a return to business as usual is not an option. Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a civilised society.”

    (Sustainable Development Commission Report,March 2008)

  • Pingback: Can REDD save the forests of Sarawak? | redd-monitor.org

  • aborium

    The Dutch turned down Sarawak timber certification standards because these do not meet EU standards for use of sustainable timber. Sarawak had even earlier rejected the move to comply with the national timber certification board. So you’re left dealing with a rogue player. Documentations are pretty straightforward, the question is whether you comply with the standards or not.