FSC-Watch

An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

Uganda: Villagers petition lands minister to stop FSC-certified company from evicting themTags: Uganda, Plantations, SGS Qualifor

On 25 May 2009, SGS Qualifor issued an FSC certificate to New Forest Company for its plantations in Uganda. Less than two months later, more than 10,000 villagers petitioned the lands minister to stop New Forest Company from evicting them from their homes. They accused armed groups of beating people, abducting them and destroying their crops and houses. Below are two articles about New Forest Company, one from the Ugandan newspaper, New Vision and one from World Rainforest Movement.

Given that New Forest Company plans to sell carbon credits from its plantations, this news should be of particular interest to FSC's Carbon Working Group. The Group was established in July 2009, and is supposed "to explore the role that FSC and forest certification can play in frameworks and projects to mitigate climate change." Last week, the Carbon Working Group held a three day meeting in Bonn, sponsored by GTZ (the German agency for technical cooperation), where it discussed "FSC's representation and message at the UNFCCC COP-15". Clearly, the Carbon Working Group needs to take a look at the impact of some FSC-certified carbon projects first. FSC-Watch would like to suggest starting with the FACE Foundation and New Forest Company in Uganda followed by Plantar in Brazil.

Uganda: Mubende Residents Petition Lands Minister Over Eviction, Harassment

By Moses Mulondo, New Vision, 20 July 2009

Kampala - OVER 10,000 residents of Kitumbi sub-county in Mubende district have petitioned the lands minister, Omara Atubo, to stop a private company from evicting them.

The residents said tensions were high in the villages of Kyamukasa, Kyato, Kicucula, Kisiita, Mpologoma, and Kanaamire where armed groups are beating people, abducting them and destroying their crops and houses.

While handing the petition to Atubo in his office in Kampala yesterday, residents said the harassment was meant to subdue them to leave their land, which they have occupied for decades.

They explained that the land was allegedly bought by New Forest Company to plant trees. "My banana plantation on three acres has been destroyed by the people who are trying to evict us. They even took 10 bags of maize from me," Jessica Nyinamatama, a 56-year-old widow, who is taking care of nine orphans, said.

The LC3 land committee chairman, William Mpamira, informed Atubo that Kyamukasa and Mpologoma primary schools had been closed following the chaos. Over 700 pupils, Mpamira noted, had stopped going to school.

"Two of our neighbours were abducted by armed people who are trying to evict us," Mpamira said. "Richard Twahirwa was arrested on June 26 and Cyprian Munyagaju was arrested on July 13. Up to now, we don't know their whereabouts."

He narrated that their tormentors attack at night and that most residents had resorted to sleeping in the bushes. "Our land is not a forest reserve. Besides, we doubt whether the intention of the company is to plant trees and protect the environment," Mpamira argued.

"Since 2005, they have been cutting down trees which we had preserved for commercial timber," he narrated. Responding to the petition, Atubo vowed to stop the investor from evicting the residents.

"As a ministry in charge of land, we are saddened by what has happened to you. It is important to respect your rights irrespective of whether you occupy the land legally or not. There is no need for your colleagues to disappear, your property to be stolen or crops to be destroyed," Atubo said as the villagers applauded.

The minister said he would summon the resident district commissioner and the company officials to respond to the reports. Atubo also promised to lead a team of investigators to Kitumbi on a fact-finding mission.

"This is an urgent case because it is about life and death. These acts against our citizens should stop immediately. Investment is only good if the residents benefit from it. Human beings are more important than trees," he stated.

Uganda: Carbon sink plantation - where trees are more important than people

World Rainforest Movement, Bulletin 145, August 2009

The UK-based New Forests Company is establishing tree plantations in Uganda, Mozambique and Tanzania. The company states that "Whilst based on commercial forestry economics, our projects are underwritten by carbon credits ... in compliance with the Clean Development Mechanism". This means that its profits from the sale of wood will be increased by selling "carbon credits" to polluting industries in the North. It also means that companies buying these carbon credits should be also held responsible for the impacts of these plantations on local peoples and the environment.

Given that New Forests "has already established itself as the biggest tree planter and the dominant player in Uganda" and "is set to begin operations in other countries", it is important to let people know about what is actually happening in its 54,000 acres of land in this country.

The company defines its activities as "Sustainable and socially responsible forestry". The meaning of this is shown clearly in the pictures and short text in its own web site. The "responsible" process begins with the destruction of local biodiversity in two steps: 1) manual "bush clearing" 2) "chemical spraying". Once the local vegetation has been totally eliminated -and the environment polluted with chemical herbicides- it is substituted by two fast-growing alien tree species (Eucalyptus and Pine) planted as monocultures over large areas of land. These green deserts are the "New Forests" from where this company takes its name.

Evidence about how "socially responsible" the company can be is also provided in the above mentioned pictures. Two of them show a few women working in very uncomfortable conditions in a makeshift tree nursery. Another photo shows a 16-strong "clearing team" without appropriate clothing for the task. Finally, the 12 workers of the "chemical spraying" team are shown from too far away to assess if they have been provided with the necessary protective gear and clothing. Given that the company does not provide any information on the figure of 1800 workers that are "expected" to work in the plantation, one can only guess that most of them will be employed in tree planting and dismissed once that activity is completed.

But even in the impossible case that all the 1800 workers were to be employed on a permanent basis, the company fails to mention that over 10,000 residents of Kitumbi sub-county in Mubende district are facing eviction to make way to its plantations. Which means that -on balance- 8,200 people will be in a far worse condition than before the company's arrival. And "far worse" is in fact an understatement of what they are being subjected to.

The following quotes from an article published on 20 July in the Ugandan web site New Vision, provides more than ample evidence about the "significant social benefits" that the company has been providing local people with.

According to the article, residents in the villages of Kyamukasa, Kyato, Kicucula, Kisiita, Mpologoma, and Kanaamire denounced that armed groups were beating people, abducting them and destroying their crops and houses. Such actions were meant "to subdue them to leave their land, which they have occupied for decades", so that the New Forests Company could plant its trees.

"My banana plantation on three acres has been destroyed by the people who are trying to evict us. They even took 10 bags of maize from me," Jessica Nyinamatama, a 56-year-old widow, who is taking care of nine orphans, said.

The local land committee chairman, William Mpamira stated that "Two of our neighbours were abducted by armed people who are trying to evict us," adding that "Richard Twahirwa was arrested on June 26 and Cyprian Munyagaju was arrested on July 13. Up to now, we don't know their whereabouts."

According to Mpamira, the population is suffering night attacks and as a result most residents have resorted to sleeping in the bushes. He also added that "we doubt whether the intention of the company is to plant trees and protect the environment," because "since 2005, they have been cutting down trees which we had preserved for commercial timber."

As a result of the situation they were suffering, the villagers decided to go to Kampala, where they petitioned the lands minister, Omara Atubo, to stop the evictions. In response, the minister vowed to stop the investor from evicting the residents and said:

"As a ministry in charge of land, we are saddened by what has happened to you. It is important to respect your rights irrespective of whether you occupy the land legally or not. There is no need for your colleagues to disappear, your property to be stolen or crops to be destroyed," Atubo said as the villagers applauded.

The minister said he would summon the resident district commissioner and the company officials to respond to the reports. Atubo also promised to lead a team of investigators to Kitumbi on a fact-finding mission.

"This is an urgent case because it is about life and death. These acts against our citizens should stop immediately. Investment is only good if the residents benefit from it. Human beings are more important than trees," he stated.

New Forests Company officials should repeat after him: Human beings are more important than trees!

Comments

Dear Sirs

As a graduate Forestry student of Uganda, we request the current players to respect the local biodiversity that includes the human beings that live in our country Uganda. A call for participatory diagnosis techniques should be emphasized. Uganda has had alot of trouble and its people should be consulted before being thrown off their land by a British company. I love my country please respect our rights as we do when we visit Britain

Please stop

I can't thank you enough fo this wonderful site. Evil must be exposed at every step.

Oxfam International wrote a new report about land grab by the New Forest Company in Uganda.

The Oxfam report mentions 22.000 people being desplaced -often violently- for this FSC-certified plantation.

http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/policy/new-forests-company-and-its-uganda-plantations-oxfam-case-study
The report also describes FSC's role.

Interesting, because Oxfam is (in countries like mine -Belgium) a member of the social chamber of FSC. So maybe it is up to Oxfam to take the next step and make sure this label is suspended immidiatly.


Also the role of SGS Qualifor is interesting. It is the SGS Qualifor team of Gerrit Marais who conducted the audit of NFC. His SGS-team is suspended in Brasil for not auditing the pulp company Veracel according to the FSC standard. Apparently Gerrit Marais is very good at closing his eyes for large scale human rights abuses and also environmental crimes.

Maybe FSC should suspend SGS Qualifor internationally.

Thanks Leo - I wrote about the Oxfam report here: http://bit.ly/n3AuEM (on redd-monitor). I'll do a cross-post on FSC-Watch in the next few days.

Leo, it would not be possible for the FSC to suspend SGS internationally. SGS now has three CB accreditations: SGS North America covering USA, Canada and Mexico; SGS Hong Kong covering China, HK, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and North Korea; and SGS South Africa covering all other countries. SGS South Africa is currently suspended for forest management certifications in Brazil. Chain of custody certifications in Brazil are not affected neither are both forest management and chain of custody certifications in any other country. I can't be certain but the forest management suspension in Brazil may affect only new client certifications, not existing certificates. This would allow SGS to continue surveillance visits on existing FM clients, presumbaly with the same auditors and systems that have been found inadequate in the audit that resulted in the suspension.

If the suspension applies to both new and existing FM clients, the maximum interval allowed between surveillance audits (FSC stipulates 12 months)would be exceeded in some cases. If a surveillance audit is not carried out within the 12 month period then presumably the certificate would become invalid. Those certificate holders that were not responsible for the CB suspension would not accept this and could possibly take legal action against the FSC.

The big certification bodies are almost immune from anything but a token suspension by the FSC. The FSC would not be in a position to fight legal claims that would surely follow if FM and CoC certificates were to become invalid due to the suspension of a certification body. A certificate holder can transfer to a different certification body but hardly any, particularly the multi-nationals and large retailers, would want to do this. SGS in particular provides high profile and brand name clients with a certification service that could not easily be matched by most of the other FSC accredited CBs. A CB/big company alliance can be very powerful and the FSC always has to be mindful of the possibility of legal action.

@ Christopher Rhodes

Yes, you have precisely described why the FSC is doomed as an organisation: because it has contracted itself into a position whereby it cannot fulfill its core function, which is to uphold proper standards among the accredited certification bodies.

It has known about this problem for almost 10 years, but has done nothing about it. So its certifiers will carry on issuing certificates to non-compliant companies (or accepting huge 'gifts from their client), and the FSC will continue doing nothing to sanction them.

Eventually, this will become too embarrassing even for organisations such as Greenpeace and WWF.

Game over.

In response to the FSC-Watch post above, in order to properly monitor and evaluate the performance of its CBs you might expect the FSC, through ASI to have in place a rigorous CB auditing programme? The facts might suggest otherwise.

According to the ASI web site, for the period October 2010 to October 2011 ASI carried out a total of 131 CB audits. Thirty nine of these were audits of CB offices or affiliate offices, 68 were audits of chain of custody certificates and 24 were of forest management/chain of custody certificates.

Currently just over 21,000 chain of custody and about 1,000 forest management certificates have been issued. During the past 12 months ASI has audited only 92 of these, about 0.4%.

Perhaps of equal concern is that one FM/CoC audit in China, and three CoC audits in Brazil, Russia and the UK were conducted as desk reviews in Germany. How can ASI assess a CBs audit performance from a desk in Germany?

I realise that for many people FSC is the most credible certification system around. I've heard it described as the "gold standard". But this becomes quite meaningless when the quality of the opposition is taken into consideration. The least we should expect from the FSC is that it rigorously monitors all its CBs, both small and large and is ruthless when performance standards are not met. My belief is that CB monitoring is not nearly rigorous enough and unless there is a significant improvement, confidence in the FSC and its logo would be entirely misplaced.

Ugandan farmers kicked off their land for New Forests Company's carbon project | REDD-Monitor
Oxfam report: 22,500 people evicted to make way for FSC certified plantations in Uganda | FSC-Watch
FSC Watch: Oxfam report: 22,500 people evicted to make way for FSC certified plantations in Uganda
On 22 September 2011, Oxfam released a report about a UK-based company called New Forests. Oxfam's researchers visited the company's plantations in Uganda and found that more than 22,000 people were kicked off the land to make way for the company's m...

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