Attempts by Malaysian logging giant Samling (SL International) to clean up its world wide image were dealt a heavy blow on 29th April 1997 when they received a letter from Cambodia's Minister of Agriculture warning them about their illegal activities in Cambodia.
The letter, obtained by British environmental and human rights group Global Witness, was headed "Warning to Mr Han Chen Kong, Director of SL International Ltd. "This letter simply confirms what we have been saying about Samling for the last two years" said Global Witness' Patrick Alley. "Despite press reports and evidence of human rights abuses and unsustainable forestry practices in many countries, Samling use their muscle to silence their opposition either through extensive PR or the courts."
"Whilst we applaud HE Tao Seng Huor's action in warning SL International, it is of great concern that no punitive action was taken against them" said Simon Taylor of Global Witness. They weren't fined, as allowed for in their Forest Timber License, and they were permitted to keep the illegally felled logs. Prince Ranariddh is on record as saying that any company breaking its concession agreements will have its concession revoked. "We are calling on the RGC to once and for all end SL International's cynical abuse of this vulnerable country by immediately terminating its contract."
The letter, reference no. 2116, catalogues violations of the company's cutting license and Cambodian forestry regulations. In brief, an unofficial translation reveals that the company is guilty as follows:
- starting exploitation before the official permission letter was issued.
- Cutting wood in areas not authorised by forestry officials.
- Cutting wood smaller than minimum permitted diameters.
- Continuing exploitation despite the logging ban which came into effect on 31st December 1996.
The RGC often cites SL International as an example of valuable foreign investment in Cambodia, but local people complain that their natural resources have been taken away from them, leaving them no access to timber for building and fuel. "Given that SL International has contributed no money to the national budget in 1997, what is their value to Cambodia?" said Taylor
Furthermore, SL International have applied to the Ministry of Agriculture to take 50-60m3 per ha from their concession, around five times the sustainable limit. Global Witness calls for this application to be refused.
"Samling will doubtless make representations to the government claiming that the illegal logging was carried out by anarchic loggers, but as Samling's concession road is controlled by RCAF, and they hire their own Ghurkha guards, such excuses should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve" said Simon Taylor of Global Witness. "In fact, SL International continue to obtain logs from the concession area and they prevent effective monitoring by the Forestry Department".
Press Release / May 23, 1997