BEAUTIFUL HARDWOODS – UGLY CORPORATE ETHICS

While forestry company trucks destroy Congo's dirt roads, Greenpeace International charges that the companies like Danzer/Siforco underpay or avoid Congo taxes entirely through the creation of offshore companies.
While forestry company trucks destroy Congo's dirt roads, Greenpeace International charges that the companies like Danzer/Siforco underpay or avoid Congo taxes entirely through the creation of offshore companies.

From time to time I check recent news of Equateur Province on the web site of Radio Okapi, the national network sponsored by the UN Mission in Congo.  Last month I came across an article reporting on more trouble between the population of a village near Bumba (on the Congo River 30 kms. above Lisala) in Equateur and a forestry company cutting hardwood in its area.  The story of Siforco’s (Societe Forestiere du Congo) actions in Equateur and neighboring Orientale Province got uglier and uglier when I did a search on Siforco on the Okapi site.

Mining companies are not the only multinational corporations acting like bandits in the American “wild west” while extracting the riches of the Congo.   Siforco is the Congolese subsidiary of the Danzer Group, the largest manufacturer of decorative veneer (think expensive  wood finish) in the world. The Swiss-German company’s timber processing plant in Maluku, Congo opened in 1976 and is the largest on the continent of Africa.  Someone with some time and, one can hope, a foundation fellowship , could look into labor relations at that plant.  Based on reports of the company’s relations with the local population in areas where they cut timber, their employee relations at Maluku are not likely to be very good.

 The Danzer-Siforco record since their forestry concessions in Congo were recertified in 2005 is abysmal.  On May 5, 2011 Radio Okapi reported that several villagers were injured and one person killed when Congolese army troops attacked locals intent on shutting down Siforco operations in Yalisika, near Bumba in Equateur Province.  After the company managers refused to discuss charges that they had violated the terms of their forestry agreement , the villagers sought to seize equipment and curtail further cutting of the forest.  The primary complaint is that the company has reneged on its promise to build a school and clinic for the local people.

The same complaint of no school or clinic built was filed in 2008 by the local population in the area of Siforco’s logging near Aketi in Orientale Province.  In their self defense presented to the Provincial Minister of the Environment, the company charged that villagers would not help with the construction of the education and health centers promised.

On the Danzer Group web site three facts stand out in the company’s justification for its lack of follow through on promises made to local populations in the areas of Congo logging operations:

1)    The company web site reports that by the end of 2011 8 schools and five health clinics will have been built by its subsidiary Siforco but it does not indicate where in Congo they were built.

2)    The company’s statement that these projects began “after 2009” is an admission that nothing was done per their 2005 agreeements with local populations until 2010.

3)    Danzer’s excuse for the delay is laughable for a company reporting revenue of  460 million euros (about $700 million) in 2006:  “Unfortunately we were delayed in the implementation of various social projects due to limitations in our capacities to implement social projects accompanied by low levels of cash availability caused by the world economic crisis in 2008 to 2010”

Danzer/Siforco’s record of adhering to their agreements in Congo certainly raises questions about their environmental practices as well as their corporate social responsibility in cutting the hardwood in the Congo basin rainforest. Do we want to entrust the “lungs of the earth” to their stewardship?

 

 

Advertisements

Protecting the Rainforest

Small village on the banks of the Ruki River between Longa and Ingende

 

The rainforest of the Congo, second largest in the world after the Amazon, faces multiple threats today.  Logging, both legal and illegal, has stepped up considerably in recent years with barges moving the huge timbers down the Congo River to Kinshasa on their way to Europe (see The River’s News posting of 6/24/10).  

 

 

In  a recent blog Congo Disciples Communications Director Nathan Weteto reported a new threat to the rainforest of Equateur Province.  Providing electricity for the city of Mbandaka, which is without  power more than half the time, can’t be a bad idea. Or can it? Read on!  

(from http://natana.tumblr.com)

“The tropical rainforest is currently a world heritage that everyone should protect. 

But now, the province of Equator province in the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently negotiating with Finnish businessmen to exploit the rainforest on a massive scale.    

The project consists of cutting trees to use the wood to provide electricity 24 hours a day for the city of Mbandaka, the capital of Equator Province, a city whose economy cannot take off due to lack of electricity.  Presented as such it is a wonderful and fabulous project, but what is the price?

The plant to be built will consume 1,000 cubic meters of wood per day! This means that trees taken into account and which would produce the wood amounts to how many? And if for one month of electricity it would require 30,000 cubic meters, what will protect the forest?
These mid-sized trees common to the rainforest of the Congo Basin stand in the parcel next to the "Maison des Missionaires" where most Disciples guests reside in Mbandaka.

 

 

Let’s stop this catastrophe if we can.”

 

The Rainforest Foundation of the UK sums up the case for preserving the jungles of the world, that of the Congo Basin being the largest after the Amazon: 

 

“Worldwide, forest destruction generates more greenhouse gas emissions each year than do all the trains, planes and cars on the planet. So if we are to tackle global warming, there is an urgent need to find ways to reduce the 14% or so of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by forest destruction each year, and to keep the remaining forests standing. 

(from www.rainforestfoundationuk.org)

The non profit Greenpeace International opened an office in Kinshasa in 2008 to lead its campaign on behalf of the Congo’s rainforest. For information on the illegal logging taking place in Equateur Province go to:

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/forests/africa/