27 March 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: Forest Certification Scheme Ignores Human Rights Violations in the Congo Basin

press release

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) industrial logging is still totally out of control. Ongoing social conflicts, including extreme violence, rape and human rights abuse prompted Greenpeace International to file a complaint in April 2011 to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) about its association with the Congolese logging company Sodefor and its Liechtenstein-based parent company Nordsudtimber (NST) group.

The FSC says it stands for healthy forests and benefits for local people so should distance itself from companies associated with human rights violations. Last week, the FSC published its decision not to disassociate from NST. This scandalous decision is a huge setback for the affected communities and for the credibility of the FSC.

Sodefor is the biggest logging permit holder in the DRC. Greenpeace has reported on Sodefor's involvement in social conflicts and illegal logging over the past years. The general pattern of these conflicts is clear: the community protests, because their landrights are not respected, taxes are not paid or the company does not comply with its legal obligations on social projects such as building schools and health centres for the community.

Standing up to a logging company such as Sodefor is dangerous business in the DRC, because police and military can be called in for intervention. In 2006, villagers of Mbelo stood up against Sodefor. The intervention mission reportedly committed 38 rapes, looted and destroyed property, arrested 37 villagers and left one person dead, apparently as a result of beatings in jail. Another case occurred around the 2010 protests by the Bokongo community. On that occasion the police intervention led to human rights abuses and the death of a 72-year old villager, George Nkaka. Even last February, it was reported that villagers were arbitrarily arrested near Bongonde when they protested against Sodefor. And these are just a few examples.

So, what more does the FSC need to disassociate from a logging company?

Based on the FSC's Policy of Association, Greenpeace asked the FSC to immediately disassociate from Sodefor/NST and nullify its certificates. The FSC has now decided not to disassociate itself from Sodefor, but to: "start the suggested process to bring about required changes to Sodefor's practices to ensure Sodefor will meet all the FSC's requirements including the Policy of Association".

Sounds reasonable? But when you think about it, this is a clear contradiction. Why start a whole process with Sodefor to live up to the policy when you have just decided not to disassociate, because there is not enough evidence for non-compliance? And this policy was meant to rule out the big, bad and ugly in the first place, not to bring them in!

The FSC's credibility is at stake here. The complaint procedure took nearly 11 months when it should have taken only three months. In the meantime the human rights violations continued. The complaints panel says it "did not have the time nor the resources to carry out extensive field investigations" and it could not investigate our allegations on workers and labour rights. Sodefor can now continue to work with FSC. In total disregard of the reality on the ground.

We have another complaint running, filed in November 2011 - against Siforco, a DRC subsidiary of the Danzer group. We urge the FSC to deal with that complaint more seriously. The FSC should halt certification of industrial logging operations in the Congo Basin. Sort out the mess first and make sure communities are compensated and their rights respected.

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