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Timber giant namedrops local activist it is suing to make itself look good

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By Bruno Manser Fonds and The Borneo Project

MIRI – Local civil society organisation Save River was shocked to see its chairman’s name on Samling’s website in a description apparently intended to strengthen the timber company’s public image.

The web page titled “Sustainability – Community Engagement at Gerenai” describes a consultation trip undertaken by Samling. The page says that NGO representatives participated in village consultation sessions and identifies Peter Kallang by name:

Despite differences, NGO representatives were also present including Peter Kallang from SAVE Rivers. We talked, we listened, we engaged, and we committed to ensuring that the voices of the communities would also be integral in the certification process.

Samling has also filed a RM5m defamation lawsuit against Save Rivers and Kallang regarding a series of articles published by Save Rivers that describes Samling’s failure to adequately consult communities in their logging concessions.

“It is very strange that the very same company that is suing me for defamation is also using my name to make themselves look credible,” Kallang said. “They should make up their mind – am I to be discredited for voicing my concerns about their operations, or a credible source of information?”

The web page describes an idyllic trip through Baram:

the pristine beauty of the rivers and the flora never ceased to create awe, the wonderfully still silence of the dense foliage never ceased to instil wonder, and the indomitable nature of the villagers never ceased to lift spirits… What began as a “process” developed into a journey of wonderment, a journey of education, a journey of appreciation, a journey of self-awareness, a journey of respect, a journey of new friendships.

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Celine Lim, the managing director of Save Rivers, attended several of the consultation meetings referred to on the web page. According to her, “this web page does not accurately describe my experience of these meetings.

“First of all, we were invited by the communities to serve as witnesses during these meetings because many of them do not trust Samling. Samling did not invite us.

“Secondly, the description of these meetings is highly romanticised, making them seem like a fairytale of goodwill. From what I saw, the communities asked a lot of questions that Samling could not or would not answer, and there was an overall feeling of confusion and mistrust.”

“If Samling really wants to improve its public image the solution is quite simple – it should drop the lawsuit against Save Rivers and stop logging the territories of indigenous communities who are opposed to timber extraction,” said Jettie Word, the executive director of The Borneo Project.

This is not the first time Samling has used Save Rivers on its website to enhance its public image. Last year Samling posted a photo featuring the work of Save Rivers on its website, implying that the photo featured its own work and using it to highlight its commitment to corporate social responsibility. The footer of the web page erroneously claimed that “all photos are credited to Samling’s staff”. The photo featured the Baram Heritage Survey, a project managed by Save Rivers and The Borneo Project, that in no way engaged Samling. – Bruno Manser Fonds/The Borneo Project

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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