Timber giant Samling loses forest certificate in Sarawak

Certification body SIRIM quietly withdraws forest certificate for logging concession in Northern Sarawak, after Samling failed to address non-conformities found in audit, while SIRIM itself is under investigation for Samling case

(LIMBANG / SARAWAK) Malaysian logging company Samling has lost its forest certificate for the Ravenscourt Forest Management Unit (FMU), one of its certified natural forests under the Malaysia Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) in Sarawak. Certification body SIRIM withdrew the certificate after Samling failed to provide effective corrective actions for issues found through previous audits. These issues concerned non-compliance with the MTCS standard. SIRIM suspended the certificate on March 28th and withdrew it on July 11th.

NGOs discovered that the Ravenscourt FMU had disappeared from the MTCS list of certified areas in July. In July and August 2023, NGOs repeatedly enquired about the certification status and the results of the last audit, however SIRIM did not answer questions about the withdrawal of the MTCS certificate. Only the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) provided the information when asked.

The mounting pressure around Samling’s contested MTCS certification comes in the lead up to their court date for a defamation suit they filed against local Indigenous grassroots organisation SAVE Rivers, which is scheduled to be heard from September 18th. In the lead up to the trial, Samling has lost one of its most contentious FMUs through the withdrawal of the Ravenscourt certificate. It has also faced increased international scrutiny, including an FSC investigation, online petitions, and email campaigns.

Last Saturday, civil society protested Samling at the London Zoo, asking for an investigation into their practices. The SPOTT rankings of the Zoological Society London (ZSL) assesses transparency of environmental and social policies of companies. Samling’s position has recently improved in the ranking. The Clean Up The Tropical Timber Trade campaign is demanding that ZSL consider field evidence, rather than just paper claims of companies, and submitted evidence regarding Samling’s questionable practices on the ground.  

Penan communities impacted by the Ravenscourt FMU welcome the cancellation of the MTCS certificate, as they have repeatedly expressed their disagreement with logging in the area. Komeok Joe, CEO of Penan grassroots organisation KERUAN commented: “From the end of 2022, forest certification is compulsory. Samling’s unwillingness to take effective corrective measures to live up to the certification standards shows they are unwilling to comply with the requirements. Consequently, we ask the Sarawak government to walk the talk and cancel Samling’s logging concession in this FMU for non-compliance. The Penan will consider any logs extracted from the area to be illegally logged.”

The auditing body SIRIM is now itself under investigation by the Department of Standards Malaysia, the national standards and accreditation body. NGOs sent a letter to SIRIM in July 2023 criticising the lack of action taken by SIRIM despite its auditors repeatedly finding violations of the MTCS standards with regards to community consultations and inaccessible complaints procedure in the Gerenai FMU. PEFC International, who endorses MTCS for the global market, thereafter submitted the letter to Standards Malaysia and requested an official investigation into SIRIM. Standards Malaysia confirmed the opening of an investigation soon after.

The 2021 recertification audit of Ravenscourt FMU noted several standard violations such as not adequately consulting communities, not informing them of conflict resolution procedures, and not providing communities with reports and information. The 2021 audit notes criticism regarding the omission of the Penan village of Long Tevenga, the absence of community use zones on Samling’s maps, the lack of Penan representatives in the Community Representative Committee (CRC) and the lack of transparency. Which non-conformities and lack of action led to the withdrawal is unclear. There are currently no logging activities on-going in the Ravenscourt FMU.

12 September 2023

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