Reject Malaysia’s Attempts to Greenwash its Timber Practices

Malaysia is the world's largest exporter of tropical timber. Logging in Malaysia far surpasses sustainable levels, and years of over- logging have seriously harmed their rainforests and indigenous peoples. Malaysia lost 2.7 million hectares of forest during the 1990s, 13.4 per cent of the country's forest area. A further “legal” deforestation of 3.9 million hectares is planned. Past criticisms of Malaysia's timber industry have made their government very sensitive to demands in the Western markets for sustainable timber products. In response, Malaysia has set up a certification scheme called the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC).
MTCC does not respect basic rights of indigenous peoples and forest based communities, and is widely criticized by local communities and NGOs. Logging is conducted without any meaningful consultation in forests upon which local people depend for their survival. In addition, Malaysian logging interests have repeatedly been caught laundering illegally logged Indonesian timber, and are known for their scandalous activities in other countries in which they operate.
Certification is considered one mechanism for obtaining more sustainable management of the world's forests. Until there are guarantees that indigenous peoples' rights are protected and environmentally and socially sustainable forestry is truly occurring, timbers supplied by MTCC should be rejected by all responsible governments, industry and consumers. Today, more than 4 million hectares in Malaysia are certified as “sustainably managed” by the MTCC despite these serious flaws:
* MTCC does recognize the customary tenure and user rights of indigenous peoples and local forest communities.
* MTCC criteria and indicators were developed without a consultation process, and fail to adequately safeguard social values and environmental conservation.
* MTCC certifies whole states in Peninsular Malaysia, disregarding variable practices.
* MTCC lacks a well-defined performance based standard.
A grouping of Malaysian social, environmental, and community-based groups named JOANGOHutan has repeatedly demanded changes in MTCC to ensure that the Malaysian certification scheme can be considered credible. As their concerns were ignored, they have withdrawn from the process. The JOANGOHutan network calls for a moratorium on logging in primary forests and in areas where indigenous peoples are asserting their native rights to land.
JOANGOHutan explains: “The MTCC timber certification scheme cannot protect and guarantee the interest and rights of indigenous peoples. MTCC cannot also guarantee the health of the forest… the MTCC is structured to find ways to sell our timber while we are mandated to protect our forests and to secure the livelihoods and interests of indigenous peoples and local communities who live in, depend on and derive their spiritual and cultural identity from the forests.”
There are many examples of abusive and illegal practices occurring in forest management activities that are certified by MTCC as environmentally and socially friendly. In May 2003, 14 villagers from a Temuan indigenous community were arrested when they tried to stop a logging company from carrying out its work on their ancestral land in Pahang. The encroachment on indigenous land took place although Pahang has been certified by MTCC since 2001. Recently the governing party of Malaysia was responsible for illegal logging and the clearcutting of 4000 hectares of virgin peat swamp forest in the state of Pahang – another example of “certified” timber.
MTCC has worked hard to gain acceptance for their forest products from the European market. Denmark is the first European country to officially accept MTCC as “a good guarantee of legal forest management, on its way towards becoming sustainable” in their tropical timber purchasing guidelines. The EU Commission, European national governments and cities in Germany and the Netherlands, such as Hamburg and Amsterdam, have also been approached by the Malaysian government and the country's timber industry, with the aim of having MTCC accepted as a credible certification scheme.
Whether MTCC standards are deemed acceptable has implications not only for forestry in Malaysia, but also for the future of forest certification around the world. Accepting MTCC would undermine the rights of indigenous peoples and sustainable forestry in Malaysia. Further, it would indicate globally that certified forestry remains exploitative and unsustainable business as usual, and is essentially meaningless in terms of forest conservation.

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