The latest episode in Samling’s crass Greenwash campaign really takes the biscuit, as the saying goes, and the world’s grading and certificate purveyors need to take note.
For, at the same time as the mammoth company is dragging Save Rivers, a shoe string Sarawak native campaign group, through the courts over a RM5 million SLAPP suit (alleging ‘defamation’ over protests against the company’s invasion of native lands) its PR department has churned out a press release claiming approval by the very same NGO.
Citing a meeting with a local community whose lands the company plans to exploit, the press release boasts:
““Despite differences, NGO representatives were also present including Peter Kallang from SAVE Rivers. We talked, we listened, we engaged, and we committed to ensuring that the voices of the communities would also be integral in the certification process.”
The angry chairman of Save Rivers, Peter Kallang, has emphatically rejected the attempt by the company to use his name and credibility to promote its claims to environmental and social responsibility, none of which its record bears out.
““It is very strange that the very same company that is suing me for defamation is also using my name to make themselves look credible. They should make up their mind- am I to be discredited for voicing my concerns about their operations, or a credible source of information?”
was his retort today. Indeed, in a further absurd contradiction, Sarawak Report recently unmasked a dubious “native NGO”- Advokasi Pribumi (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd, translating as ‘Indigenous Advocacy Sarawak’ – launched in recent weeks with the apparent sole intention of seeking to counter and undermine Save Rivers, specifically in relation to its ongoing defence in the Samling libel suit.
The newly minted ‘APS’, which has issued various press releases dripping with the pious jargon of corporate social responsibility speak, turns out to have been set up and organised by an expensive KL PR company that has launched numerous similar online ‘advocacy groups’ for major corporate clients.
We have asked if the funder behind this ‘native NGO’ so bent on attacking Save Rivers over its defamation defence might be Samling, if not who? The NGO replied with an anonymous statement saying we had “no proof”.
Such a combination of threats, deception and feigned corporate governance concern is classic greenwash PR carried out by a company with a record of caring not a fig for people or the environment, which has now decided to throw some of its money at cleaning up its image in pursuit of certification and acceptability in western markets.
Samling are plainly very ham fisted at attempting to appear enlightened. However, they know that money talks and indeed have even talked money in the not too distant past to Sarawak Report.
Specifically, would this project like to engage in eco-friendly initiatives with the logging company that would be financially beneficial to our objectives? Answer, no.
Samling is having success elsewhere, nonetheless. SR understands that London Zoo has been blandished into issuing an improved rating for Samling in its index on responsible environmental behaviour.
This to a company that has just been re-issued, thanks to its symbiotic close relations with the Sarawak leading families, with an extension to its vast swathe of logging and plantation concessions across the state.
Likewise, the pusillanimous British government which has chopped off its arms and legs over trade with its major partner in the EU has, in return for peanuts, surrendered all its environmental principles in accepting Malaysian ‘standards’ over palm oil and other products in joining the CPTPP.
Such distant and largely ignorant entities as the UK government, London Zoo and potential commercial partners need to get to understand exactly what Samling is, in order not to simply believe tick box claims about good practice just because a company makes them.
Sarawak Report has written about Samling many times. Our condemnation has been supported by numerous rigorous reports by respected organisations, including the Norwegian pension fund.
This is a family owned conglomerate which, together with the five other major Sarawak timber companies, has wrecked devastation on the planet though careless, greedy logging and has given almost nothing back in taxes or anything else. So much for pious claims of ‘ESG’ and ‘CSR’.
The Yaws took it public for a while, but that involved a lot of scrutiny and whether for that or other reasons they privatised again, buying back all those hundreds of millions of ringgit worth of shares.
Their operations have brought destruction to valuable remaining eco-systems across the world since they exploded into action under the now ailing former chief minister, Taib Mahmud, in the 1980s.
Their careless, clear cut logging practices have ruined vast areas of Borneo, Papua New Guinea, Siberia, the Solomon Islands, South America and Africa – just to enrich one family whose ties to the ruling families of Sarawak have been symbiotic over the decades.
One of the great mysteries of the company is how, despite these great operations, Samling have failed to declare barely any taxable income over the decades.
They boasted of being the largest single corporate customer of Caterpillar tractors as they ripped out Sarawak’s 150 million year old jungle in the 80s (the oldest in the world by the way and source of much of the information behind Charles Darwin’s seminal Origin of Species) and yet somehow they failed to make much profit – and thereby failed to generate taxes.
They had the same problem in Papua New Guinea and doubtless elsewhere. However, bewilderingly they ploughed on with their destruction, explaning that it was because they were ‘bringing development’ for the people.
Unfortunately, the people whose Native Customary Lands they were exploiting, thanks to Taib Mahmud’s alterations to the Sarawak Land Code to allow this plunder, proved less than grateful. In short, over the decades their lands have been logged and turned into monoculture plantations, their own lives have not become developed.
The indigenous folk of Sarawak have been impoverished by the logging in myriad ways, which is why Peter Kallang and others have demanded the company keep out of lands they are not invited into, such as Baram.
In PNG the company has a similar record and was fined millions by the courts. Samling responded by simply up-sticks and leaving – officially at least.
It is not just through legal suits, resource-grabbing, pollution, destruction of rivers and eradication of food sources that Samling and other logging companies are causing problems for indigenous people.
There is the ugly face of violence that also accompanies these conflicts where somehow local thugs almost invariably become involved by intimidating locals who cause trouble to logging and plantation interests.
Of course, these are not Samling employees or employees of the other big companies, they just seem to be attracted to the areas where the big loggers operate and decide to make life difficult for local people who don’t cooperate.
Complaints to the police or local MPs are habitually ignored in such situations, maybe because such cases always seem so hard to prove or maybe because timber companies always find money to pay the election expenses of the ruling party if not to pay taxes?
There is a simple way to evaluate if Samling has improved, transformed and modernised as they doubtless claim. First, the company should negotiate a transparent and open deal with the federal and state governments relating to their decades of unpaid taxes (which should cough up billions to finally make reparations for the local people).
Second, they should agree to an open and transparent re-tendering of the concessions they have been handed behind closed doors following a proper and open debate amongst local representatives and communities over each and every concession that is handed out.
Until then, issuers of certificates and stamps of approval should be mindful of their own credibility if they choose to favour this or any of the Sarawak logging companies with their eco-branding. Particularly, if they do so purely as a result of the clumsy and easily disproven claims of the company’s lousy PR department.