This morning I arrived in Oxford for the first Islamic Branding & Marketing Forum. It's an area I have a lot of interest in - not least because of my work on the Ogilvy Noor research. What I hadn't bargained for were the protesters who gathered to target the Sarawak government's alleged destruction of tribal forests. The protesters gathered under the banner of the NGO Survival, to raise awareness of the plight of the Penan, a Sarawak tribe that is under threat from the deforestation of its lands. A spokesperson for Survival said that the organisation was trying to stop the Sarawak government from allowing logging companies to operate on Penan lands. The situation is complicated by the fact that the Sarawak government does not, apparently, recognise the Penan's rights to their land. Her message to the paper companies was simple:
"Stop. Stop, until you have the prior and informed consent of the Penan."
Meanwhile, inside the venue, the Sarawak Convention Bureau appeared a little nonplussed by the protest. The organisation had no plan ready for this type of situation, and declined to make any comment. One source there spoke to me on condition of anonymity, and argued that tribal people in Sarawak support development. The source admitted, though, that the Penan had suffered. The arguments on both sides are reasonably familiar. Particularly after the resounding success that Greenpeace has had in forcing brands such as Nestle and Unilever to stop using palm oil. And the woes of the likes of APP and April Asia, which is currently searching for PR support to help it better engage with NGOs. I am surprised, though, that the Sarawak Convention Bureau was completely unprepared for this situation - it strikes me that this body should be much more aware of the concerns of all its stakeholders, of which today's protest is a critical example. After successfully targeting the private sector, NGOs are unlikely to have any qualms about going after government bodies in Malaysia and Indonesia with the same level of ferocity.