Wills & Kate need to examine real causes of forest destruction in Malaysia

For immediate release

On the 14th September 2012, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will begin a two day tour of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. The official purpose of the visit is to highlight the conservation activities of the Royal Society. Wills and Kate should also look at the systemic causes of rainforest destruction in Borneo: high level corruption and the relentless process of industrial-scale logging and conversion of forests to oil palm plantations, which has left Sabah with less than 4% of intact forest [1].

The Duke and Duchess’ tour will involve an audience with Sabah’s Chief Minister, Musa bin Aman. Musa is currently the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by Swiss authorities for the laundering of USD 90 million through the Swiss bank UBS AG [2], allegedly amassed by soliciting bribes from loggers in exchange for timber licenses. Musa denies the allegations.

High level corruption in Malaysia’s two Borneo states – Sabah and Sarawak – has resulted in some of the highest rates of deforestation anywhere in the world and appalling human rights abuses for the forest communities standing in the way.

“This new generation of the royal family has an opportunity to highlight the real issues such as land grabbing and corruption that directly result in poverty, deforestation and human rights abuses, rather than inadvertently providing diplomatic cover – even kudos – for some of the most destructive activities on the planet”, said Tom Picken, Campaign Leader, Forests at Global Witness.

As a fellow of the Royal Society, Prince William will visit its rainforest research centre in one of Sabah’s last remaining areas of intact rainforest. While the centre undertakes valuable work in the field of conservation, one of its major projects is to research ‘best practice’ deforestation, funded by the Malaysian oil palm giant Sime Darby. This Malaysian company is one of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, clearing forests across South East Asia and Liberia. Apart from its environmental impact, the company’s ex-President has been charged with corruption offences related to acquisition of native land in Sarawak during his time at the helm of the company [3].

“The Royal Society undertakes invaluable work highlighting deforestation issues, however taking money from companies at the forefront of forest destruction risks serious conflict of interest, playing into the public relations objectives of such companies rather than halting the forest destruction at the core of their business model”, said Picken.    

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Contact: Tom Picken, Campaign Leader, Forests; [email protected]; 07810558247.

Global Witness investigates and campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses

[1] CIFOR (2011) ‘Local Impacts of Oil Palm Expansion in Malaysia: An Assessment based on a case study of Sabah state’. Page 1. The working paper states that between 1975 and 1995, Sabah’s primary forest cover fell from 2.8 million ha to 300,000 ha.

Calculation based on Sabah’s total landmass of 7.37 million hectares. WWF Germany (2005). ‘Borneo: Treasure Island at Risk’. Page 39. http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/treasureisland_0605.pdf

[2] Reuters (31/08/2012). ‘Swiss Probe UBS over alleged Malaysia Money Laundering’ http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/08/31/ubs-investigation-idINL6E8JVH8220120831

Answers to questions submitted to the Swiss National Council on 03/05/2012 by MP Sommaruga Carlo

[3] The Star Online (17/07/2012). ‘Former Sime Darby CEO Ahmad Zubair charged with CBT’. http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/7/17/nation/20120717103718&sec=nation