Press release / 4 March 2024

Dutch government calls for investigation into Malaysian timber certification

The Dutch government expects PEFC International to undertake an investigation into its own role as a forest certification system, using the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS). "It is about time the Dutch government takes a leading role in ensuring Malaysian timber entering The Netherlands is not associated with deforestation and human rights abuses," states Paul Wolvekamp of Both ENDS. "Considering that the Dutch government has the ambition to build 900.000 houses in the immediate future, involving massive volumes of timber, such as timber from Malaysia for window frames, builders, contractors, timber merchants and local governments rely on the Dutch government to have its, mandatory, timber procurement better organised, i.e. from reliable, accountable sources'.

A preliminary investigation by the Timber Procurement Assessment Committee (TPAC), an independent expert group advising the Dutch government, identified the lack of required transparency under PEFC/MTCS as a clear violation of the Dutch timber procurement policy. TPAC further found that MTCS might fall short of the Dutch procurement policy with regards to the complaints procedure, the implementation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), conversion of forests and the lack of stop-work-orders while complaints are pending, amongst other issues. Consequently, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management decided at the end of last year for TPAC to request from PEFC "substantive convincing evidence within a reasonable time that these issues are unfounded or to make an acceptable improvement on them within a reasonable time". TPAC supports PEFC's proposal to do a joint field visit.

In the report - published in January - TPAC criticised the lack of cooperation from MTCC, which did not engage with TPAC beyond responding to one question in an email. TPAC also questioned "to what extent PEFC and MTCC have effective provisions and procedures for identifying and mitigating structural irregularities" in place. TPAC criticised that "PEFC - as the system operator - did not indicate that itself or any other entity would have an overarching and monitoring role in this" and stresses that buyers must be confident that PEFC-certified timber "meets all quality requirements."

In May 2022, an Indigenous delegation from Sarawak held a series of meetings with decision-makers in the Netherlands on the unresolved issues around accountability, flawed consultations and deforestation, amongst others. The case, however, began much earlier than that: in 2010, TPAC assessed MTCS and concluded that the standard did fall short of the Dutch procurement criteria for sustainably produced wood with regards to Indigenous rights, obtaining FPIC, conversion of natural forests and access to and quality of maps. MTCS was therefore not accepted by TPAC, even though it already fell under the endorsement of PEFC. MTCS remained under separate review of TPAC in the procurement of timber. However, government procurement under both systems has been allowed since June 2014. In 2016, TPAC conducted a field visit to verify whether the outstanding issues had been resolved, but was severely restricted in access to sites and stakeholders in Malaysia. In its subsequent report, TPAC concluded that the issues appeared to be solved on paper but could not assess the field situation. In January 2017, the Dutch government accepted MTCS as complying with the procurement policy. Since 2020, the Dutch government has placed the acceptance of MTCS under the umbrella of the endorsement of PEFC International. Regarding the raised concerns, however, PEFC must now provide evidence of MTCS's compliance to its own standard and the Dutch timber procurement policy.

Both ENDS, SAVE Rivers, KERUAN, Bruno Manser Fonds and The Borneo Project welcome the decision by the Dutch government to further investigate the raised complaints with a field visit. Celine Lim, Managing Director of Malaysian Indigenous grassroots organisation SAVE Rivers, states: "We expect MTCC and PEFC International to work closely with their Dutch counterparts as much as with civil society and affected local communities to resolve these problems. Until then, it is irresponsible to continue unlimited export of timber from controversial sources."

Later this week, Malaysian and international stakeholders are meeting in Sarawak's capital Kuching to discuss Sustainable Forest Management, such as MTCS and PEFC, at a conference.

For more information

Read more about this subject