The Samling Group plays a pivotal role in the continuing destruction of tropical rain forests. It holds over 40,000 square kilometres of biodiverse, timber-rich land in Malaysia, Guyana, China and New Zealand and has been involved in illegal logging in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.
Last May, The Times newspaper reported how the survival of Asia's last nomadic people, the Penan, was being put at risk by Samling. Described as "the human equivalent of an endangered species", the Penan, who inhabit the tropical rainforest in the state of Sarawak -in Borneo, were being threatened by Samling and having their land stolen. According to Private Eye, in the past 45 years more than 90 per cent of Sarawak's rainforest has been logged.
On 7th February, Malaysian police removed a blockade the Penan had set up on the upper reach of the Baram River allowing Samling to begin destroying the state's last area of primary rainforest.
HSBC, which yesterday announced record profits of $22bn, can expect to make millions from the deal with Samling. In December 2005, the bank announced that its carbon footprint of 550,000 tonnes had been neutralised by a reduction in direct energy consumption in its 10,000 offices, recycling and offsetting. The offsetting had been achieved through support of a windfarm in New Zealand, methane capture and biomass co-generation.
HSBC claims to have a strict code of conduct surrounding logging. Its website claims it does not provide "financial assistance, including any involvement in debt and equity capital markets activities and advisory roles, in respect of commercial logging operations in primary tropical moist forest and high conservation value forest".
HSBC insists that any logging company they deal with aims for Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification within five years. However, the obligations Samling will face to meet HSBC's standard after they have finished dealing with the stock market listing is minimal. In January 2007, the FSC withdrew certification from the group for a concession of 570,000 hectares in Guyana because of "gross violations".
A spokesman for HSBC admitted, "this is a difficult situation... if we can't prove it we shouldn't support it". Samling expects to raise $280m from the listing.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2007