Sarawak lies on the north-west coast of Borneo and is the largest of the Malaysian states. It holds an abundance of gas and oil below the surface, dense rainforest above and is home to thousands of tribal people. Some of the tribal peoples of Sarawak are traditionally nomadic but the majority are now settled in villages and practise agriculture. Only a small minority still live by their nomadic hunter-gatherer heritage, they are the Penan. An infamously gentle people, the Penan depend on the forest for their livelihood, their spiritual beliefs and their identity.
The Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) has granted a certificate for forest management to the timber company Samling for a region of forest which is under claim by the Penan. The disputed land in the Ulu Baram area is still pending a court decision. Regardless of this the MTCC has awarded certification for logging procedures to go ahead. No consultation with the communities of the region ever took place.
The state legal system has no regard for the Penan, denying them the right to a home and slandering their balanced culture which has sustained itself and the surrounding environment for countless generations. The results come at lethal pace - the rivers have turned to silt, in turn killing the fish, game retreats deeper into the forest. The Penan suffer from malnutrition and water-borne diseases, new roads bring disease and also leave them vulnerable to many forms of abuse which continue this very moment as you read this page.
The government is constantly attempting to ‘develop’ and ‘modernise’ the nomadic Penan, believing a settled life of agriculture to be far more civilised, and the hunter-gatherers to be ’backwards’ . They talk of integration and opportunities through development, (logging, mining, oil palm plantations, dams and tourism) but the only results seen by tribal peoples tend to be disease, hunger and resettlement to a life that is completely unthinkable in their culture.
Timber is big business in Sarawak and often at the heart of the countrys’ politics.
The World Bank reported in 1991 that Sarawak was being logged at four times the sustainable rate, but even this appears to be a conservative estimate when you witness the pace of destruction first hand.
Many communities and NGOs have raised concern over MTCC decisions in the past, and a recent Greenpeace investigation has exposed numerous flaws within the MTCC certification process such as no independent tracking of wood from forests to first point of timber processing being evident.
The report demonstrates beyond all doubt that MTCC procedures cannot ensure the legality of the products they certify as legal. It also dismantles any notion that the MTCC Chain of Custody system is functioning as it should to give legal credibility and proof of sustainability to its certifications.
Despite all this, April 2005 saw MTCCS’ presentation at the ‘ITTO Workshop on Phased Approaches to Certification’ in Switzerland received well by some of the participants. This is a major concern to those pushing for higher standards and sustainability guarantees in the timber industry. Organisations such as Bruno Manser Fonds sent reports against MTCC to each participant at the meeting in an effort to present a more balanced picture.
Malaysian NGOs are currently prompting the MTCC to comply with Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) standards and processes. The FSC runs the only truly credible certification scheme which meets international standards.
So please exercise your consumer power when buying timber products, do not buy or recommend MTCC certified wood to others, purchase and steer others towards FSC products.
The Penan have protested against the certification and appealed to the responsible federate minister with no success. There has been no substantial reaction from these parties so far. They continue to protest this breach of their claimed Native Customary Rights (NCR) and Native Customary Lands (NCL) and are demanding that the companies stop operations until the land disputes are resolved.
Most of the NCL do not have ‘official’ records or documents to certify that the Penan are the occupiers and therefore the rightful owners of the land. The state government do not advocate map surveillance projects to demarcate the Native Customary Land, and so companies exploit this failing.
This is an extract from a letter sent to the Malaysian Timber Certification Council by more than 600 members of the Penan in January 2005:
“Many of us have suffered due to the Samling logging operations: our rivers are polluted, our sacred sites damaged and our animals chased away by people who deprive us of our livelihood and culture.
For many years, we have been raising our voice to protest against Samling activities, but neither the company nor the government is listening to us. We cannot accept that Samling timber be now awarded with a certificate to continue offending our Native Customary Rights.
We stay united and we are determined in our protest against this offence of our rights.
Here, we renew our firm demand that Samling timber stop destroying our forest.”
Our aim is to place pressure on the MTCC in the hope that they will revoke the certificate awarded to Samling.
Please send polite letters to the people responsible for these decisions.
Insist that the MTCC revokes the certification granted to Samling for the Sela’an-Linau Forest Management Unit .
Tell them you support the Penan in their claims for Native Customary Rights.
Samling say “ The result of logging has directly and indirectly, improved the lives of the interior people
The Penan disagree.
Samling say they are “respecting traditions” and that their “Forestry Resource Management
Policy compliments existing customs and traditions”.
The Penan disagree.
Let these people know that we can see through this nonsense green-washing spin, and that we demand the Penan be awarded the rights to their homeland.
1) Write to MTCC and ask them to revoke the certificate for Forest Management granted to
Dato’ Dr Freezailah B. CheYeom
19 F, Level 19, Menara PGRM
No.8, Jalan Pudu Ulu, Cheras
56100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Fax: +603 9200 6008
2) Write to the federal minister in charge and ask him to revoke the MTCC certification:
Y.B. Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui
Menteri Perusahaan Perladangan dan Komoditi Malaysia
Kementerian Perusahaan Perladangan dan Komoditi
Aras 6 - 13, Lot 2G4, Presint 2
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan persekutuan
Fax: +603 8880 3482
3) Write to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and let them know about
your disapproval of the abusive certification of Samling by MTCC:
International Tropical Timber Organization
Dr Manoel Sobral Filho
International Organizations Center, 5th Floor
Fax: +81 45 223 1111
Dear Dato’ Dr Freezailah B. CheYeom,
Y.B. Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui,
Dr Manoel Sobral Filho,
I am writing in support of the Penan regarding the Sela’an Linau Forest Management Unit
awarded to Samling in the Ulu Baram area of Sarawak and to express my disapproval of this
As you know the courts have yet to pass a decision on the area, therefore Samling should halt all
operations on disputed land without further delay.
I request that the MTCC revoke the certificate awarded to Samling immediately and permit no
further operations on Penan land.
The Penan way of life and means of survival has already been compromised beyond reason,
this atrocity must stop now and their traditions must be respected.
I also wish to express my support for the Penan in their claim for recognition of Native Customary
Rights and Lands.
Respect for all communities is essential, and no peoples should ever be forced from their homeland
for the sake of industry.
If the MTCC plans to build a reputation as a respected and credible timber certification body I
believe it must show a responsible approach to this crisis facing the Penan and prove itself capable
of respecting Penan traditions and livelihoods.
This disastrous situation has gone on far too long already, please revoke the Samling certificate
4) Write to Samling and express your disapproval with the violation of the Penans NCR:
Samling Strategic Corporation Sdn Bhd
Lot 296, Jalan Temenggong Datuk Oyong Lawai Jau
PO Box 368
To whom it may concern,
I wish to express my concern and frustration at the continued violation of Penan Native Customary Rights.
International awareness regarding the abuse of Penan land is growing quickly, and the situation in the Sela’an Linau FMU in the Ulu Baram area needs to be remedied before the interior peoples are damaged irreversibly.
Samling continues operations on Penan land despite being very clear in the knowledge that a court hearing is on-going and has yet to reach a conclusion.
Samling claims to respect interior peoples traditions and to work with them, improving their standard of life. Well the Penan would strongly disagree as would all NGOs and social organisations on the ground in Sarawak.
These operations are illegal and immoral. I request that Samling pull out of the area immediately and halt all logging operations within Penan territory.
And if you can, please support this action further by sending emails /letters to members of governments who are already supporting MTCC activities by purchasing MTCC certified timber: