Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hall of shame for Sarawak timber giant

PETALING JAYA : Entering the hall of shame seems to be quite common for Malaysia, especially when it comes to human rights.

Survival International, an international indigenous rights NGO, has named Sarawak timber giant Samling as one of the five biggest violators of tribal peoples' rights worldwide.

Other companies named and accused of human rights violations by the NGO include French-owned GDF Suez, Brazilian-owned Yaguarete Pora and Botswana-owned Wilderness Safaris.

According to Survival, Samling chief executive officer James Ho was said to have uttered, “The Penan have no rights to the forest.”

Samling was also reported by online news portal Sarawak Report as “sharing its blankets” with Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.

A few weeks ago, the website alleged that Samling had sold luxurious Seattle-based mansions in the US to Taib at dirt-cheap prices.

Taib appears to be no stranger to Seattle, with a number of property listed under his as well as his childrens' names.

These included the Abraham Lincoln Building in downtown Seattle, which also houses the divisional headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Deep interior

The company had also come under fire in the past for barring indigenous villagers from boarding logging vehicles as a means of transport.

Officials from the timber company allegedly told villagers to drop sexual abuse charges against their workers in return for these services.

Logging roads serve as the only way in and out of the deep interior, forcing natives such as the Penan to rely on them in order to reach cities or schools.

Samling also came under the international spotlight when its investments were dropped from the Norwegian Government Pension Fund for its purportedly unethical practices.

The fund, which had invested US$1.2 million (RM3.7 million) in the timber company, based its decision based on a report that accused Samling of logging out of its concession areas and causing wanton rainforest destruction.

Even with these criticisms, Taib has come out in full defence of the company's practices, going so far as to praise Samling for being a “responsible company”.

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