The new dispute between Samling and the Penan arose after the release of a report by an international fact-finding mission in July 2010. The report had uncovered seven new cases of sexual exploitation of Penan girls and women in the Upper Baram region by timber workers and had asked the Malaysian government to address the grievances of the Penan communities.
According to Penan sources, Jawa Nyipa, headman of Long Ajeng, was asked by Samling officials to sign a statement that the women in the region had retracted their allegations of sexual abuse by timber company staff.
Jawa Nyipa was told that, unless he signed the document, all transport services for the locals would be suspended. The headman refused to sign the statement but the Penan are concerned about the implications of Samling’s threat to suspend transport for the impoverished villagers in the Upper Baram region.
The Penan, who live in remote jungle villages in Borneo, rely on logging companies for transport to rural centres in order to reach the local markets, obtain medical treatment and send their children to secondary school.
Samling’s refusal to provide transport is likely to put them in a very difficult situation as they are unable to afford other means of transport. Last year, logging companies operating in the Middle Baram region ceased to provide transport for a number of communities who had voiced concerns over sexual abuse and rape by timber workers.
Samling (HKEX 3938) is a globally operating Malaysian timber conglomerate with an annual turnover of US$480 million.
Last week, the Norwegian Government Pension fund excluded Samling from its portfolio because of the company’s involvement in illegal logging and the fact that it had caused and is still causing severe environmental damage.