From: Michael Casey, Associated Press
Published August 8, 2006 12:00 AM

Environmentalists Say Logging Companies Committing Rights Abuses

BANGKOK, Thailand — Multinational logging companies operating in Papua New Guinea are involved in widespread human rights abuses, political corruption and the brutal suppression of workers, environmentalists alleged Monday.


Malaysian logging companies are utilizing corrupt police officers to beat up and jail anyone who opposes their activities, according to a joint report released by the Centre for Environmental Law & Community Rights or CELCOR and the Australian Conservation Foundation, or ACF.


Villagers, meanwhile, are often persuaded by the government to sign away communal land for timber production in exchange for new roads and schools that never materialize, the report said.


Workers at logging camps, the report said, often go unpaid, live in unsanitary and crowded conditions and are prevented from leaving their work site.


It documents workers who said they were denied medical care when they were injured on the job and others who recalled co-workers falling sick or dying on the job. Many also work without safety gear such as hard hats and goggles.


"In Papua New Guinea, the capacity and political will to uphold legal and human rights is being undermined not least by the logging industry itself," the report says.


"It is an industry that is synonymous with political corruption, police racketeering and the brutal repression of workers, women and those who question its ways," the report continued.


The prime minister's office Monday had no immediate comment on the report.


A spokesman for Malaysian logging company Rimbunan Hijau denied the allegations and called the report "almost breathtaking in its elitism and misinformation and its disregard for the people of Papua New Guinea."


"Our logging operations are legal and we work with local communities. Even our pay rates are above the national average," the company said in a statement. "There is no exploitation and, to suggest there is, is offensive to the company and all our employees."


The report is the latest to highlight the rampant logging in Papua New Guinea, but the first to focus mainly on how the practice affects local communities.


Earlier reports have documented the fact that much of the harvested timber -- which is exported to China, Japan and South Korea -- is illegal. A study by U.S.-based Forest Trends said that a review of 14 logging concessions over 3.17 million hectares (7.83 million acres) in mostly undeveloped Papua New Guinea found that none could be defined as legal.


The problems in Papua New Guinea are typical of many other developing countries with abundant rain forests, where international syndicates have teamed up with corrupt law enforcement officers to log extensively.


Much of the wood goes to China, which needs the lumber to supply a fast-growing domestic market as well as an export industry that turns the logs into flooring and furniture for European and American markets.


The ACF report found that the industrial logging often left communities in ruins, polluting rivers and destroying culturally sensitive sites such as graveyards, while providing few economic benefits to local residents.


"The way I see it, it's the landowners who are the losers at the end of the day," Steven Mela, a resident from the village of Vailala where there has been extensive logging, said in a statement.


The report calls for the government to investigate the "persistent problems of large scale logging" while setting up an independent human rights and anti-corruption commission.


It also called on authorities to issue a moratorium on new logging permits and revoke licenses of companies found to be committing rights abuses or corruption.


Source: Associated Press


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