WWF response to Global Witness allegations

Dear Editor,

On behalf of WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network, in particular those operating near, or within, the area designated as the Heart of Borneo, on the island of Borneo, I would like to issue the follow response to your recent coverage of the Global Witness report entitled: Pandering to the loggers, on July 25/26, 2011.

The GFTN Network strongly and categorically disputes the findings and related conclusions which form the basis of the Global Witness (GW) report, particularly in the context that WWF green washes companies that conduct natural forest management in Borneo.

Many of the assertions in the report are just plain wrong, or else based on an incomplete understanding of the process and procedures the report attempts to critique. For example, claims made in regards to the Malaysian company Ta Ann are both inaccurate and misleading.

Linking the company’s current forestry operations, which were sanctioned in 1999, with the HoB Declaration, which was signed by the governments of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia in 2007, shows a clear lack of understanding of the on-ground reality within the HoB. A lack of understanding which also brings in to question other assertions made in the GW report.

In contrast to the report allegations, Ta Ann has never been a forestry member of the GFTN.

GFTN’s work with Ta Ann in Malaysia is confined to trade membership and is directly linked to two of its mills where constructive engagement with the company has led to marked improvement in Chain of Custody issues and High Conservation Value Forest assessment within its existing concessions. Neither of these advances would have been possible without the existence of the GFTN process and the willingness of the company to engage in that process.

Neither does the GFTN sanction illegal behaviour from within its membership - another erroneous claim made in the report.  Assertions of illegal logging activity in the Heart of Borneo are not only incorrect, but they once again reflect poorly on the diligence with which the report’s authors have researched issues.

The 22 million hectare area, as decreed under the HoB Declaration, is not one, large protected area. Instead, it is a mosaic of conservation areas, forest and wildlife corridors, and most significantly - areas which have been designated for sustainable development - which can include logging, mining and palm oil production.

Indeed, as widely published on WWF’s HoB websites and literature - currently 40% of the HoB area is under some form of concession or permit for natural resource use. The challenge for the three government signatories of the HoB Declaration, organizations like WWF and other partners, is creating the environment for sustainable development in these concession areas.

Transparency issue

In response to the allegation that the GFTN processes are not transparent, or difficult for third parties to call it to account. This claim too, strays from the truth.

Since the completion of a third party independent review in 2007, the GFTN has worked hard on transparency issues. The programme lists all participants on its website (www.gftn.panda.org/about_gftn/current_participants/) and has released a Public Information Document that describes the scope of these relationships.

Balancing the ‘commercial in-confidence’ needs of GFTN members with the equally strong desire for transparency in all its activities involving approximately 300 companies and 25 sovereign WWF offices is a responsibility the GFTN does not take lightly.

Disappointing witnesses

In summary, WWF remains disappointed with the way GW has chosen to misrepresent information. Disappointed in its decision to highlight isolated instances, which when taken out of the broader context of GFTN’s operations, do not acknowledge the huge steps the GFTN has made over the past 20 years of its operation.

GFTN has been instrumental in the creation of markets for credibly certified forest products. Since its inception, GFTN has been an effective mechanism to promote and develop markets for forest certification, especially through the highly successful Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). All GFTN participants are required to set and meet targets concerning legality as well as credible certification, and today more than 50 per cent of the global market for FSC material is traded by GFTN participants.

GFTN’s practical approach has enabled the forestry industry to be part of the solution to unsustainable deforestation and forest degradation. The GFTN will continue to work with companies to achieve certification in across the globe and to improve the sustainable management of forests on the ground. Especially in places such as the Heart of Borneo, where WWF will continue to work closely with government, the private sector and local communities to develop green economies, based on a balance of sustainable resource use and nature conservation

Yours sincerely,

Adam Tomasek, WWF Heart of Borneo Initiative Team Leader

25 October 2011: Clarification from WWF

GFTN and Ta Ann Holding Berhad – a clarification

In December 2009 GFTN-Malaysia and Ta Ann Holdings Berhad locally signed an MOU which contained the scope of both forest participant and trade participant. The MOU was not ratified at the time by the GFTN headquarters because Ta Ann’s forestry operations were ineligible to become a forest participant under the Rules of Participation developed and used by the GFTN programme. GFTN- Malaysia has engaged Ta Ann only as a trade participant and has not undertaken activities that would have fallen under the category of forest participation. The MOU was revised to reflect the reality of the relationship in August 2011 and now lists the Lik Shen and Ta Ann Plywood mills as trade participants, rather than the wider group of Ta Ann Holdings Berhad. This was a failure of internal communications and will be addressed in the forthcoming evaluation of the programme.

WWF regrets any misunderstanding.

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