WASHINGTON DC —
The environmental watchdog Global Witness has filed a formal complaint with an international nonprofit called the Forest Stewardship Council, following the group’s certification of a Vietnamese rubber company accused of land grabs and forced evictions.
Global Witness says it wants clarification on why the Vietnam Rubber Group has been recertified by the council after it its certification was suspended in November 2013.
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international nonprofit aiming for responsible management of forests worldwide. “FSC certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits,” according to the group’s website.
Global Witness says the Vietnam Rubber Group does not meet criteria for certification.
“The company’s certification was suspended in November 2013 amid allegations of land grabbing and environmental destruction in Cambodia and Laos,” Global Witness said in a statement. The company’s Cambodia concessions cover almost 150,000 hectares of land, “an area almost as large as London or Manila,” the group said. In Laos the company holds almost 19,000 hectares.
“Given the outstanding allegations, it is shocking that the FSC has done a U-turn on VRG’s certification,” Ali Hines, Global Witness campaigner, said in a statement. “The Forest Stewardship Council upholds itself as the world’s leading certifier of responsible forest management. 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 behavior and tarnishing its own reputation if it continues to associate with the company.”
Global Witness says the VRG has not offered evidence to counter claims that it has taken land from indigenous people without their consent and illegally cleared forest that contains protected species like rosewood.
VRG has said it will investigate complaints from affected communities. But Global Witness says that should not mean it is FSC certified.
“VRG’s recent steps towards improving communication with communities in Cambodia and Laos are positive,” Hines said. “But Global Witness remains deeply concerned that illegal logging persists both in and around the 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.”
In is own defense, VRG says its projects have been approved by the governments of Cambodia and Laos and that it has avoided farmland and significant forest areas in its operations.