Credit Suisse shamed over rainforest deal

Environmentalists staged a protest outside the bank in February Keystone

Switzerland's second-biggest bank, Credit Suisse (CS), is facing demands for the financial compensation of indigenous people over the destruction of rainforests.

This content was published on May 3, 2007 minutes

The bank is organising moves by a leading Malaysian timber company, Samling, to float its shares on the stock market.

Two Swiss non-governmental groups, the Society for Threatened Peoples and the Bruno Manser Fund – named after the missing Swiss rainforest activist – presented their demand for $10 million (SFr12.1 million) compensation in Zurich on Thursday.

The groups accuse Samling of destroying indigenous populations' drinking water resources and preventing them from entering their own forests to harvest timber.

They pointed out that Samling is involved in environmentally damaging business deals in Malaysia's Sarawak region and is also accused of corruption in the south American nation of Guyana.

The NGOs called on incoming CS chief executive Brady Dougan to suspend business links with the timber giant. They say the Swiss bank is in breach of its corporate policy on sustainability by accepting a mandate for Samling.

No policy change

However, Credit Suisse has so far refused to review its position.

On Thursday the bank continued to reject NGO criticisms but it arranged a meeting for all parties for Thursday afternoon.

"We have checked Samling extensively – as have external experts," said CS spokesman Alex Biscaro.

"Along with other banks we have concluded that Samling complies with the proper regulations and standards."

Samling also defended itself on Thursday, saying it was very considerate of local people.

Samling spokeswoman Cheryl Yong said the company was concerned by the accusations as it was very much aware of its responsibilities towards indigenous populations.

She added that the Penan tribe in Sawarak – one of whom addressed the press conference in Zurichm, saying "My people are slowly dying" – was not representative: in the areas where Samling is active live two dozen indigenous people.

Presumed dead

In February environmentalists and aid organisations staged a protest outside the bank's headquarters in Zurich to mark the beginning of the subscription period for Samling shares in Hong Kong.

Manser, a renowned Swiss environmentalist, campaigned against rainforest logging. He went to live with indigenous people of Sarawak on the island of Borneo in the 1980s.

He was banned from the region but headed back in 2000. Soon afterwards he went missing and two years ago the Swiss authorities declared him dead.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Malaysian-based Samling Group is a leading timber company and controls four million hectares of rainforest in Malaysia, China, New Zealand and Guyana.

The CS Group is the number two in the Swiss banking sector.

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