‘Tainted’ money: WWF partner denies endorsing Ta Ann

Posted on August 8, 2011. Filed under: Forestry/Wetlands |

-Free Malaysia Today-

A WWF partner says that the controversial timber concessionaire had ‘made progress’ in order to remain in its ‘sustainable conservation’ programme.

PETALING JAYA: A WorldWide Fund For Nature (WWF)-linked organisation has denied that it is endorsing a globally blacklisted timber concessionaire’s operations in Sarawak.

The Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) said that it had nothing to do with Chief Minister Taib Mahmud-linked Ta Ann Holdings Bhd’s forestry operations in Sarawak.

GFTN chief George White said his organisation’s relationship to Ta Ann was confined to a trade participation understanding involving two of the concessionaire’s mills in Sarawak.

“We are not involved in its forestry operations. Our ties (with Ta Ann), which began in 2009, has led to the improvement in chain of custody (CoC) and high conservation value forest (HCVF) assessments of the concessions that are supplying the mills.”

CoC and HCVF are concessions granted to industries which comply with standards on sustainable development.

“And to date, the two mills have made sufficient progress in order to remain as participants in our programme,” White said in an e-mail to FMT.

He added that under its assessment formulae, Ta Ann was required to use a well-established mechanism to eliminate any illegal or “unwanted” material in its supply chain.

He said Ta Ann had also volunteered to apply for CoC and HCVF concessions for its Ta Ann Plywood and the Lik Shen sawmill.

GFTN’s ties with Ta Ann is its first effort to operate in Sarawak.

“The mills, with their commitment to GFTN, had given us an opportunity to try and engage other timber industries in Sarawak,” said White.

Abusing connections

On July 25, a whistleblower group, Global Witness, accused WWF of supporting timber companies which were causing destruction to rainforests in several countries.

In a globally syndicated report titled “Pandering to the Loggers”, the whistleblowers claimed WWF Malaysia had recruited Ta Ann Holdings into GFTN, a company which it claimed was clearing forests the size of 20 football fields daily in Sarawak.

GTFN, a 20-year-old organisation, was formed to support the trade of legal and sustainable timber products.

This is achieved by moulding the global market “into a positive force to save the world’s most valuable and threatened forests”.

But Global Witness argued that GFTN is failing in its efforts to clean up dirty companies, such as Ta Ann, by allowing them to abuse their connections with GFTN.

In Ta Ann’s case, Global Witness noted that it was “cutting rainforests in Borneo, including forests within the Heart of Borneo, an ambitious conservation campaign in Sarawak, headed by WWF.”

Knowing that Ta Ann is one of the companies clearing forests in the Heart of Borneo, it is puzzling how WWF could partner with the logging company under GFTN.

Earlier this year, the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund had blacklisted the Ta Ann Group identified as one of 49 Taib-linked companies across eight countries.

Poor management

Ta Ann, which is helmed by Taib’s cousin Hamid Sepawi, has been accused of deforestation, among others.

Although Taib has denied the allegation, Ta Ann Group however has in its formal application for a licence for reforestation stated that there is little remaining natural forest in Sarawak.

For instance, in its Environmental Impact Statements in 2006, Ta Ann pointed out that “most of the natural forests of Sarawak have been logged at least once” and “the sustainability of such logging activities has become questionable”.

In 2008, the Auditor-General report further confirmed the company’s statement. The report criticised Sarawak, noting that it is one of the four states in Malaysia with “poor management of forests, leading to river pollution, erosion, landslides and destruction of flora and fauna”.

Meanwhile, White, when asked if WWF was receiving fundings from Ta Ann, said : “As a member of GFTN, Ta Ann had paid RM15,000 for being a trade participant and the amount is calculated based on its annual sales turnover.”

He added that the fee helps WWF in recovering costs for the training programmes provided to its participants to ensure they meet the criterias set by GFTN.

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