February 23, 2009
27-Feb update: ACCOR to meet Interhill over destructive logging allegations
The Switzerland-based Bruno Manser Fund reports that NOVOTEL, a subsidiary of ACCOR, is jointly building a 4.5-star hotel in Kuching, Sarawak's capital city, with Interhill, a Malaysian tropical timber company.
Interhill was here: In March 2006, the company's bulldozers reached Ba Abang, a Penan village in the Middle Baram region.
Since the late 1980s, Interhill has been cutting down rainforests in a 55'000 hectare timber concession in Sarawak's Middle Baram region. Photos and captions by the Bruno Manser Fund
In a letter issued today to ACCOR CEO, Gilles Pélisson, Bruno Manser Fund demands that ACCOR withdraw from the 388-room NOVOTEL INTERHILL hotel project.
"We are shocked by ACCOR's cooperation with Interhill, since it is completely at odds with ACCOR's ecological and social standards," said Straumann.
The letter notes Interhill's used of intimidation tactics against Penan communities, including the hiring of "armed thugs" and alleged sexual abuses by workers against young women. These abuses are currently under investigation by the Malaysian police and SUHAKAM, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia.
Letter by BMF to ACCOR CEO Gilees Pélisson
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ACCOR spokesman: Meeting with Interhill scheduled for next week
Representatives of ACCOR, Europe's leading hotel group, are scheduled to meet with the Malaysian logging company Interhill next week over allegations that ACCOR's cooperation with Interhill is in contravention of ACCOR's environmental and social policies.
The online edition of London-based Environmental Finance magazine quotes Evan Lewis, the Singapore spokesman for ACCOR, as saying: "ACCOR became aware of the allegations of BMF last weekend. Subsequently, we have asked for a response from the owners of the Interhill project and ACCOR representatives are scheduled to meet with Intrhill next week to obtain an understanding of the related businesses."
Last week, the Bruno Manser Fund demanded ACCOR's withdrawal from the Novotel Interhill Kuching hotel project, a joint venture between ACCOR and Interhill, a controversial Malaysian logging company. Interhill has been logging tropical rainforests in the Malaysian part of Borneo since the end of the 1980s and bears decisive responsibility for the ongoing destruction of the very basis of several indigenous communities' existence in Sarawak's Middle Baram region.
ACCOR is Europe's leading hotel provider with 150'000 employees and annual sales of EUR 7.7 billion (2008). The company has repeatedly confirmed its commitment to sustainable development and has enrolled its 4,000 hotels in the "Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Camapign" launched by the United Nations Environment Programmen (UNEP).
Update 11 March 2009: ACCOR sets conditions for future cooperation with Malaysia's Interhill logging group
Interhill have been given six months to comply with social responsibility standards – ACCOR: “We are extremely sensitive towards questions relating to local communities and the environment”
ACCOR, the Paris-based European hotel group is setting conditions for its future cooperation with Malaysia's Interhill logging group on a 388-room hotel project in Sarawak / East Malaysia. ACCOR is thus reacting to a campaign launched by the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) over the controversial Novotel Interhill hotel, which is currently under construction in Kuching, the state capital of Sarawak.
The French business group is requesting Interhill to set up social responsibility standards for its logging operations in Sarawak’s Middle Baram region and to implement significant measures within the next six months:
“We have asked those in charge at Interhill to commit themselves, in writing, to the progressive establishment of social responsibility measures”, writes ACCOR in a letter to the Bruno Manser Fund, published today. “The maintenance of our commercial partnership requires the definition of realistic but significant targets. It similarly requires the establishment of a timetable, especially for the next six months, prior to the opening of the hotel. Finally, it requires a verification procedure to be drawn up in conjunction with our local teams.”
The French hotel group explicitly states that BMF and the Accor group “share common aims, particularly in the field of local development and the fight against the sexual exploitation of children.” ACCOR’s letter is signed by Hélène Roques, the group’s Director for Sustainable Development.
By putting pressure on Interhill, Accor is acknowledging BMF’s criticism of Interhill's socially and environmentally destructive logging practices. Interhill’s logging operations in a 55,000 hectare timber concession in Sarawak’s Middle Baram region have had a devastating effect on the indigenous Penan communities and have depleted the tropical rainforests which have provided the basis of the Penan’s livelihood for centuries.
The Bruno Manser Fund welcomes ACCOR’s decision to pressurise Interhill on social standards but warns that results might not so easily be achieved, given that Interhill has a long track record of corporate misbehaviour. “Social responsibility should, first and foremost, entail recognition of the native communities' land rights and respect for the "adat" - the customary rights system”, said BMF Director Lukas Straumann.
BMF is asking Interhill to put an immediate stop to its intimidation of local communities and to withdraw all those employees who have been involved in intimidation or harassment from its timber camps in the Middle Baram. Interhill is also being asked to guarantee the security of both the Penan representatives and the victims of alleged sexual abuse in the company’s area of operations. By way of an immediate move, Interhill must withdraw its bulldozers from the community forest of Long Item, a Penan village that is currently struggling to preserve its last forest reserve from logging.
According to ACCOR, Interhill has not yet responded to the French group’s demands. A meeting between the Bruno Manser Fund and ACCOR is scheduled for next week.