(MIRI / BARAM / SARAWAK) Local civil society organization SAVE Rivers was shocked to see their chairman’s name on Samling’s website in a description apparently intended to strengthen the timber company’s public image. The web page titled “Sustainability - Community Engagement at Gerenai'' describes a consultation trip undertaken by Samling. The page says that NGO representatives participated in village consultation sessions and identifies Peter Kallang by name: “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.” Samling has also filed a 5 million ringgit defamation lawsuit against SAVE Rivers and Kallang regarding a series of articles published by SAVE Rivers that describe Samling’s failure to adequately consult communities in their logging concessions.
“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,” said Kallang. “They should make up their mind- am I to be discredited for voicing my concerns about their operations, or a credible source of information?”
The web page describes an idyllic trip through Baram: “the pristine beauty of the rivers and the flora never ceased to create awe, the wonderfully still silence of the dense foliage never ceased to instil [sic] wonder, and the indomitable nature of the villagers never ceased to lift spirits…What began as a “process” developed into a journey of wonderment, a journey of education, a journey of appreciation, a journey of self-awareness, a journey of respect, a journey of new friendships.”
Celine Lim, the managing director of SAVE Rivers, attended several of the consultation meetings referred to on the webpage. According to her, “this webpage does not accurately describe my experience of these meetings. First of all, we were invited by the communities to serve as witnesses during these meetings because many of them do not trust Samling. Samling did not invite us. Secondly, the description of these meetings is highly romanticized, making them seem like a fairytale of good will. From what I saw, the communities asked a lot of questions that Samling could not or would not answer, and there was an overall feeling of confusion and mistrust.”
"If Samling really wants to improve its public image the solution is quite simple - it should drop the lawsuit against SAVE Rivers and stop logging the territories of Indigenous communities who are opposed to timber extraction.” said Jettie Word, Executive Director of The Borneo Project.
This is not the first time Samling has used SAVE Rivers on their website in order to enhance their public image. Last year Samling posted a photo featuring the work of SAVE Rivers on its website, implying that the photo featured their own work and using it to highlight its commitment to corporate social responsibility. The footer of the webpage erroneously claimed that “all photos are credited to Samling’s staff”. The photo featured The Baram Heritage Survey, a project managed by SAVE Rivers and The Borneo Project, that in no way engaged Samling.