WWF says blindsided by Borneo deforestation claim
KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 — The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has slammed as incomplete and inaccurate a whistleblower group’s report that the conservation group was backing timber companies, including in Malaysia, involved in “highly destructive activities.”Responding to accusations that it had lent its logo to loggers involved in indiscriminate stripping of the rainforest in Sabah and Sarawak, WWF claimed it was not given enough time to respond to the allegations.
The Global Witness report was widely reported in international media today, and its accusations have severely embarrassed WWF and could potentially affect the conservationist’s funding and donations.
According to a report in the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, the influential conservation group had allowed timber companies to use its iconic panda logo while razing some of the world’s biologically-rich rainforest.
The report titled “Pandering to the Loggers” claimed that a major Malaysian logging company, Ta Ann Holdings Berhad, which WWF-Malaysia recruited to join the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) in December 2009, had been stripping rainforests the size of 20 football fields per day.
Responding today, the head of GFTN George White said the article contained a number of errors and misleading statements.
“WWF was given a very late opportunity to respond to specific questions from Global Witness. On 17 June 2011, Global Witness sent letters to WWF informing us of a forthcoming report, and detailing a number of claims regarding GFTN,” he said.
“Despite requests, Global Witness refused to either extend the deadline or to offer any more background information, which would have enabled us to answer more fully or within the context of the report itself. “Pandering to the Loggers”, a report unseen by WWF prior to publication, makes a highly selective — and therefore misleading — use of WWF’s responses. We maintain that many aspects of the Global Witness report are incomplete or inaccurate.”
White said, however, that WWF took the allegations seriously and would examine Global Witness’s recommendations in detail.
The GFTN was set up by WWF 20 years ago as an initiative to turn the global marketplace for forest products into a positive force to save the world’s most valuable and threatened forests.
The Malaysian logger cited by the whistleblower is a public-listed company here and has five separate concessions in Sarawak and Sabah, according to information obtained from the company’s website.
The combined size of the timber concessions is 362,439 hectares.
“There are few minimum standards required for companies joining GTFN,” the report said. “Meaning even companies involved in highly destructive activities, such as clearing natural forests to make way for plantations or buying wood products from illegal sources, can join and benefit.”
According to the WWF, in return for commitments to improve the legality and sustainability of the wood products they harvest, buy, or sell, companies that pay to participate in GTFN benefit from technical assistance available to members and from association with the conservation group and its world-famous panda brand.
Although the GTFN is part-subsidised by the United States and European Union, its “rules are less stringent than US and EU laws prohibiting the import of illegal timber,” said Tom Picken, a forest campaigner at Global Witness.
“When a landmark scheme created in the name of conservation tolerates one of its member companies destroying orang utan habitat, something is going seriously wrong,” he added.
Global Witness said the company was part of the GTFN despite working within the boundaries of the Heart of Borneo project that WWF bills as “crucial to the survival of Borneo’s endangered species including orang utan and clouded leopards”.