Investigative rights group Global Witness has lodged a complaint with an international forest management body after it recertified the Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG) last week despite outstanding allegations that the company is driving a wave of land and forest grabs in Cambodia.
The Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) suspended VRG’s certification – which is intended to provide buyers with assurances that the company’s products meet environmental and social standards – in November 2013 after a report by Global Witness that raised allegations of land grabbing and illegal logging by VRG.
According to the FSC certifying body, Control Union, VRG has not offered substantial evidence to counter the claims in Global Witness’s report, "Rubber Barons", which alleged that VRG’s subsidiaries were illegally clearing forest containing protected species of timber and taking indigenous people’s land without consent.
“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,” Global Witness campaigner Ali Hines said in a statement.
But VRG country representative Leng Rithy said the FSC had evaluated the company’s plantations in Cambodia – covering an area about the size of London – this year and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
“We did not do anything to harm people, instead we built roads, schools, pagodas and brought electricity,” he said. “We came to invest in Cambodia because we saw that people did not use the land.… After they [FSC] investigated, [they found] we did not abuse the people.”
VRG recently said it would receive and investigate complaints by affected communities, a pledge Global Witness said was “positive”.
But, Hines told the Post, “Global Witness has continued to monitor the impacts on the ground of VRG’s rubber plantations and found that problems around illegal logging and the grabbing of community land persist," adding that the concerns are “well documented and urgently need to be addressed”.