In April 2015, WWF and Rougier, a French logging company, announced that they would work together on a three year programme to “jointly advance responsible forest management and trade”. The deal is part of WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) that aims to promote trade in legal and sustainable timber.
The benefits to Rougier are clear. The company gets to use WWF’s panda logo to greenwash its logging operations. Société Forestière et Industrielle de la Doumé (SFID), a subsidiary of Rougier, has been a member of the GFTN since 1 October 2009.
It is less clear why a conservation organisation would partner with a logging company. Surely the indigenous people living in the forest that need the of support conservationists, not the logging company.
Baka communities did not consent to logging
Last week, Survival International accused WWF of partnering with a company that is logging without the consent of the local indigenous Baka communities:
A French logging company and official partner of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is deforesting a huge area of rainforest in southeast Cameroon without the consent of local Baka “Pygmies” who have lived there and managed the land for generations, Survival International has learned.
Rougier is described as an “integrated forest & trade company” and a large “forest operator” in a WWF press release and report. It is felling trees in an estimated 600,000 hectare area, which is more than is permitted under Cameroonian law.
In its response, Rougier denies the accusations, and in turn accuses Survival International of making “slanderous allegations”:
[T]he Rougier Group denies the validity of the charges made against it and will be quickly putting in place appropriate means of defense faced with these slanderous claims attacking the company and all its employees.
Survival International recently wrote to Rougier’s CEO, Francis Rougier, asking whether he believed that the Baka had given their consent to his company’s logging operations. In reply, the company wrote that, “Baka communities are aware of our existence and operation”. I’m sure they are by now. But that isn’t an answer to Survival International’s question.
Enter the Forest Stewardship Council
In March 2013, SFID obtained Forest Stewardship Council certification for two of its logging concessions, covering a total area of 285,667 hectares.
When the certificate was issued, Rainforest Alliance, the assessor set a series of Corrective Action Requests. One of the problems with the FSC system is that a certificate can be awarded even though the operation does not comply entirely with FSC’s standards. The auditor issues a Corrective Action Request and at a future audit, the company has to convince the auditors that it has improved.
Two of the Corrective Action Requests relate to Baka communities. Both relate to the Baka’s rights to access and use the forest inside the logging concessions (presumably before Rougier logs it):
Interviews with a sample of Bantu and Baka local communities that have developed participatory maps have revealed that there is a bad, or sometimes a lack of understanding of the purpose and content of these documents and the rights that underlie the exercise of identifying resources in the territory. Access to the FMU’s [Forest Management Unit] coveted resources, their use rights (subsistence vs. commercial) and harvesting techniques still form a mixture that is difficult to disentangle. In one particular case, the existence of reforested areas within the FMU limits (a regulatory requirement) constitutes a no-go zone in the mind of community members, while it really should not be so.
The statutory provisions, the requirements of the management plan, traditional methods and procedures for access to natural resources are defined in management plans and outreach materials for local residents. There are also posters on paths that explain the resource that are prohibited for harvest. However, interviews with local villages reveal that the requirements of traditional methods authorized and the terms of access to natural resources are not always understood by the local population.
Following both of these findings, Rainforest Alliance’s assessors made an almost identical comment:
SFID is at the beginning stages in obtaining information and awareness of local communities to process their customary use rights, and there is room for improvement in the understanding and knowledge of the documents relating to customary use and rights as well as their rights and duties with respect to the identified resources.
This is a bizarre process. The company logging the Baka communities’ forests, and thus impinging on Baka community rights, gets to explain to the Baka communities what rights they have.
And when SFID received FSC certification the company was at the “beginning stages” of explaining to local communites what their rights are.
SFID held a few training modules on participatory mapping and usage and legal rights. And Rainforest Alliance removed the Corrective Action Requests at the next audit.
Partnering with Rougier, rather than indigenous peoples
Clearly, the Baka were not involved in a process of free, prior and informed consent about the logging of their forest. Four years after Rougier joined WWF’s GFTN, the Baka communities affected by Rougier’s logging were still unaware of their rights.
Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, comments:
“If further proof were needed that WWF is more interested in securing corporate cash than really looking out for the environment, here it is. The absurd language it has used to try and hide this partnership with a logging firm – calling Rougier a “leading producer of certified African tropical timber” – should fool no-one, and reveals a lot about the nature of this partnership. It’s a con. And it’s harming conservation. Survival is fighting these abuses, for tribes, for nature, for all humanity. Conservation organizations should be partnering with tribal peoples to protect the environment, not the companies destroying it to make a quick buck.”