Ta Ann in Sarawak: Latest news on environmental credentials & labour relations

Ta Ann Tasmania is a subsidiary of infamous Sarawak logging and oil palm company Ta Ann Holdings. Accusations of human rights abuses and environmental damage in this state of Malaysia, including logging endangered species habitat in the ‘heart of Borneo’ rainforests, have been made in recent years.

In Tasmania, Ta Ann have excused their Sarawak activities by making a big deal of their membership of WWF’s Global Forests and Trade Network (GFTN), stating that Ta Ann’s partnership with the WWF’s GFTN ensures that harvesting fully accounts for endangered species” and that the company was vouched for by WWF Malaysia .

However a report by international environmental and human rights organisation Global Witness, Pandering to the Loggers, released in July 2011, criticised WWF’s GFTN.

Screen shot of WWF Press release showing WWF Malaysia Executive Director alongside Ta Ann’s Chairman at the signing ceremony. This was removed from WWF’s website shortly after Global Witness contacted WWF in May 2011 in relation to its dealings with Ta Ann.

Their Case study 1 detailed that Ta Ann Holdings Berhad (Ta Ann) were admitted to GFTN although their wider activities include clear-cutting orangutan habitat in WWF’s own Heart of Borneo project area, under the banner of ‘implementing sustainable forest management.’ An environmental impact study had noted the presence of a wide range of endangered species, including orang-utans, clouded leopards, and Bornean gibbons in ‘area F’ of Ta Ann’s operations. It predicted ‘major adverse impacts’ for such animals and other flora and fauns as a result of plantation development, since ‘their habitats will be destroyed’.

Stung by the criticism, WWF launched a review of their GFTN, and recently published the findings (May 2012).

“In relation to Malaysian company Ta Ann, the evaluation found that GFTN participation rules and processes for forest participants were knowingly not followed at the local level. Activities undertaken between the local office and Ta Ann were consistent with trade participation but the Memorandum of Understanding continued to include a Forest participation scope. Furthermore, information appears not to have been adequately shared internally regarding company status, and the evaluation found programme implementation and communication to be inconsistent.”

WWF Malaysia can no longer be advanced as cover for Ta Ann, now that WWF itself is clear that rules and processes were knowingly broken at the local level in Malaysia.

Further, the general recommendations for the entire GFTN include that: GFTN must rigorously strengthen its policies to avoid being abused by those companies not genuinely committed to performance improvement.  WWF Response: Agree.

Global Witness responded to all of this with a blog which makes this key point

Our main criticism is not that WWF has got too close to companies and failed to hold them to account, although that is true. It is that even if these companies were playing by the scheme’s rules, the system it endorses is fundamentally wrong.

The logic WWF works on is that responsible logging will keep some form of forest standing. But a weighty body of evidence now shows this approach actually makes deforestation in these and surrounding areas more likely over time.

The damage done by incentivising loggers to go deeper into primary forest is hard to overstate.”

Tasmanian environmentalists associated with taann.net can only agree, wholeheartedly!

The Sarawak Report has also critiqued Ta Ann’s claims on human rights and the environment.

Labour Relations: Ta Ann Holdings laments imposition of minimum wage in Sarawak and plans sackings instead.

Ta Ann’s chairman used their recent AGM to criticise implementation of a minimum wage in Malaysia, saying it would particularly affect their plywood processing operations. Rather than pay the additional cost of $US20-30 per cubic metre to produce plywood, Ta Ann plans to sack workers and cut production.

This is the company that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in Australia have been supporting to the hilt. Arm in arm with Ta Ann Tasmania they have declared cuts to employment and production to be unacceptable. Obviously this is a case in which sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.

Is it possible that the CFMEU is being played by this ruthless corporation?

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