Albion Monitor /News

World Bank Woos Timber Companies

by Abid Aslam

Private meeting with loggers before conference
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The World Bank, prohibited since 1991 from financing logging projects in tropical rainforests, is attempting to woo timber corporations in a bid to promote sustainable logging.

Bank President James Wolfensohn has invited the chief executive officers (CEOs) of several global logging companies to dinner in January, just before a scheduled meeting of Bank officials with the companies and a select group of environmentalists.

Conspicuously absent from the list of invitees to either the dinner or the meeting are environmental, citizen, or indigenous peoples' groups from the developing countries where chain saws are felt the most.

"The Bank has historically set up similar initiatives which have turned out to be Trojan horses" for corporate interests
Asian participants are limited to notorious loggers such as Indonesia's Mohammed "Bob" Hasan and it remained to be seen what the meeting could produce and whether forest communities would have any say, said William Mankin, director of the Washington-based Global Forest Policy Project.

"This is basically a fine idea that might have gone wrong even before it starts, but let's hope this is not so," Mankin told IPS. "Yesterday was the time to throw the cover off this issue and let everyone look in."

In an Oct. 6 memo to Wolfensohn, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, World Bank environment officials say they are trying to promote good forest management by stimulating the market for forest products that meet international environmental standards. Officials hope the timber CEOs will sign on to the effort at the January meeting.

"All of this is risky business," said Joshua Karliner, executive director of the California-based Transnational Resource and Action Center (TRAC).

"The Bank has historically set up similar initiatives which have turned out to be Trojan horses" for corporate interests, Karliner told IPS. Among those he noted was the Tropical Forest Action Plan (TFAP). That effort, established in the mid-1980s, was discredited as evidence mounted that it was contributing to the very problems it set out to correct.

Even staunch critics of the Bank concede that Wolfensohn and Robert Watson, the recently appointed head of the Bank's environment department, appear to be acting in a genuine belief that the only way the agency can clean up the forest industry is to engage it.

In the past few years alone, timber companies have staked out more than 11 million acres of virgin forest
To make its initiative work, however, the Bank will have to strike a careful balance between groups seeking protection for the world's remaining rainforests, and governments and corporations looking to fell and sell the trees.

The balancing act already is proving tricky. "Green" groups and indigenous peoples' representatives, who see sustainable logging as an attack on forests and forest communities, have been barred from the meeting and at least one logging company has snubbed the Bank.

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representing forest peoples asked to join the meeting but were turned down, according to the Oct. 6 internal Bank memo.

"The issue is not our concern about the groups per se, as we appreciate the dialogue with them very much. It is that we feel the CEOs would not find the presence of these groups conducive to a frank and focused dialogue on their own concerns and constraints," the memo states.

Randy Hayes, RAN's founder and president, disputed that assertion. "It's another example of the men in grey suits cutting deals behind closed doors," he told IPS.

However, because the Bank's latest initiative involves some "greens," at least one logging company has turned down Wolfensohn's invitation. The U.S.-based Georgia-Pacific Corp. will not attend the January meeting and has urged other members of the American Forest Producers Association (AFPA) to write to Wolfensohn protesting the Bank's alliance with environmentalists, the Oct. 6 memo says.

Some loggers contend that by sitting down with the greens, the Bank has tacitly endorsed forestry certification criteria applied by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This is the Mexico-based NGO that, since 1993, has certified logging operations deemed to be compliant with local laws and international environmental principles.

Logging executives have voiced a preference for self-certification efforts, exactly the sort of thing FSC was established to counter.

Bank officials, however, "have not committed ourselves to any particular set of certification principles, precisely so we can avoid being accused of partiality," the memo says. Nevertheless, they insist that "independent certification of sustainable forestry is critical," and describe the FSC criteria as "the only ones we feel represent truly sustainable forestry at this point."

Even RAN favors independent certification, but only in secondary forests where logging has already taken place. Primary, old-growth forests should be spared the axe, Hayes argued.

Suriname and Guyana are among countries with virtually intact primary forests. "Ways should be found to compensate such countries for maintaining what is a benefit for the world as a whole. They should not be made dependent on transnational logging companies" for their economic development, Hayes said.

While Asian countries fell what is left of their rainforest, the Amazon forest remains largely intact. Timber companies have turned to Latin America for new tracts to log and deforestation rates have increased rapidly since 1994, following a slowdown earlier this decade.

In the past few years alone, timber companies have staked out more than 11 million acres of virgin forest, according to published reports.

Corporations expected to attend the Jan. 9 meeting include Hasan's Indonesian Wood Panel Association (APKINDO); Aracruz Cellulose SA of Brazil; Sweden's Assidoman Kraft Products; B-and-Q UK of Britain; U.S.-based Caterpillar, Inc., Collins Pine, and Weyerhaeuser Company; Finland's ENSO OY; Germany's Danzer Furneirweke GmbH; Japan's Mitsubishi Corp.; Canada's MacMillan Bloedel Ltd.; and the Asian Samling Strategic Corporation.

Environmental groups invited include Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and World Resources Institute, all from the United States; and the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International.

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Albion Monitor November 30, 1997 (

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