Investigations group Global Witness has lodged a formal complaint with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), following the recertification of the Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG), which has been accused of driving a wave of land and forest grabs in Cambodia and Laos.
Global Witness is seeking clarification as to why the FSC, whose General Assembly meets this week, recently renewed its certification of Vietnam’s state-owned rubber producer VRG. The company’s certification was suspended in November 2013 amid allegations of land grabbing and environmental destruction in Cambodia and Laos.
The impacts are significant. VRG’s Cambodia concessions cover nearly 150,000 hectares of land - an area almost as large as London or Manila. In Laos the company holds almost 19,000 hectares.
“The Forest Stewardship Council upholds itself as the world’s leading certifier of responsible forest management,” said Global Witness campaigner Ali Hines. “The Vietnam Rubber Group and its subsidiaries have been grabbing land from communities and systematically flattening some of the Mekong region’s last intact forests. The Council risks greenwashing such egregious behaviour and tarnishing its own reputation if it continues to associate with the company.”
The FSC’s well-known ‘tick tree’ logo is intended to offer consumers assurances that forest products like wood, palm oil or natural rubber come from plantations that abide by certain social and environmental rules. Under these rules, certified companies should not be involved in illegal logging, human rights violations, or the destruction of valuable forests.
According to the company’s FSC certifying body, Control Union, VRG has so far offered insubstantial counter-evidence to the claims in Global Witness’ ‘Rubber Barons’ report, released in May 2013. The exposé alleged that VRG subsidiaries were taking indigenous peoples’ land without their consent, and illegally clearing intact forest containing protected wood species like rosewood - both within and beyond their concession boundaries.
VRG received FSC certification for two of its rubber plantations in Vietnam in 2007. The certification was suspended in November 2013 under the FSC Policy for Association, in place to ensure that the FSC only associates with companies committed to principles of responsible forest management. The suspension was lifted in June of this year.
“Given the outstanding allegations, it is shocking that the FSC has done a U-turn on VRG’s certification. This case highlights major concerns within the FSC around company compliance which urgently need to be addressed”, said Ali Hines.
Global Witness recently welcomed an announcement by VRG that the company will now receive and investigate complaints from communities affected by its plantations in Cambodia and Laos.
“VRG’s recent steps towards improving communication with communities in Cambodia and Laos are positive”, said Ali Hines, “But, Global Witness remains deeply concerned that illegal logging persists both in and around VRG’s plantations. If the FSC wants to maintain consumers’ trust in its brand, it must conduct a proper investigation and immediately dissociate from VRG should the company be unable to disprove claims of wrongdoing.”
Responding to Global Witness’ complaint to FSC, VRG stated that its rubber projects had been approved by the governments of Cambodia and Laos. It added that farmland and areas of significant forest cover had been excluded from its concession areas, and that control of forests both within and outside its plantation boundaries lies with the local authorities.
This is the second time this year that Global Witness has lodged a complaint with FSC. The first, submitted in February, related to Danish timber giant Dalhoff, Larsen and Horneman (DLH), accused of buying illegal timber worth over US$ 300,000 from Liberia. FSC’s investigation into this is ongoing.
Contact: Ali Hines [email protected] +44 (0)7738 712955
Alice Harrison [email protected] +44 (0)7841 338792