Major palm oil producers accused of destroying Indonesia’s forests and driving its iconic wildlife to the verge of extinction are now taking their practices to the relatively pristine forests of the Congo Basin, an environmental group has warned.
In its report “Seeds of Destruction” released this month, the Rainforest Foundation UK said there was “a real and growing risk that some of the serious, negative environmental and social impacts resulting from the rapid expansion of palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia, such as widespread deforestation, social conflict and dispossession, could be repeated in the Congo Basin.”
“This report shows that some of the same major players behind oil palm production in Southeast Asia [such as Sime Darby, Goodhope, Wilmar and FELDA] are now turning their attention to Africa,” RFUK said.
The report said the companies were turning to the Congo Basin region, which includes Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, among others, because of lower land and labor costs and preferential access to the European Union market.
It warned that unless the African governments were fully aware of how these companies were operating in Indonesia and Malaysia, they could suffer from the same problems seen in Indonesia.
“Of the companies which have been identified as being behind specific developments, or are otherwise known to be seeking oil palm land in the Congo Basin, three — Cargill, Sime Darby and Wilmar — have been found in the past to be involved in illegal and destructive oil palm development in Indonesia,” the report said, citing independent claims made by the environmental groups Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace and AidEnvironment.
It added that the negative environmental and social impacts “typical of [palm oil] developments in Indonesia have already been well-documented at … Sime Darby’s concession in Liberia.”
RFUK listed the negative impacts as deforestation and loss of biodiversity, increased carbon emissions from the clearing of primary and peat forests, conflicts with indigenous residents over land rights, pollution of local water resources and poor working conditions for local laborers.
To avoid these problems, it recommended greater transparency in the palm oil contracts, ensuring respect for local communities and empowerment of smallholder farmers, among other measures.
The increased expansion into Africa by Southeast Asian palm oil firms grabbed headlines last month when farmers in Liberia denounced the “modern slavery” visited upon them by an Indonesian company, Golden Veroleum Liberia.
“The Indonesians came here for the first time in September 2010,” resident Benedict Manewah told AFP.
“They said, ‘We have a concession agreement, your president has sold it to us.’ Three months later they came back … and they started to destroy the properties, farmlands, crops, livestock and houses.”
Sime Darby, from Malaysia, was the subject of similar complaints in Liberia.
- Indonesia’s palm oil blues spreading to Africa, report says (eco-business.com)
- Capitalists amping up destruction of Congo rainforests for palm oil plantations (dgrnewsservice.org)
- The REDD contradiction: Deforestation and oil palm plantations in the Congo Basin (climate-connections.org)
- Felda Urges Tax-Free Palm Oil to Combat Reserves: Southeast Asia (bloomberg.com)
- Video: Environmental crime: In pursuit of the palm oil industry in Liberia (climate-connections.org)
- Starbucks Will Source Only Sustainable Palm Oil By 2015 (triplepundit.com)
- The Perils of Palm Oil (familysurvivalprotocol.com)
- Palm oil casualty? 14 pygmy elephants fall prey to pesticides in Borneo (csmonitor.com)
Written by Ashley Schaeffer
Although there are no major fires still tearing through the Tripa peat forest in Sumatra — the largest remaining Sumatran orangutan habitat in the world — updates from our allies on the ground tell us that Tripa is still gravely at risk. With one or two small fires still breaking out each day, combined with ongoing active forest clearing for palm oil plantations, the critically endangered orangutans depending on this forest for survival remain in danger.
Despite the international spotlight on Tripa since late March, there is still active clearing and building of more drainage canals going deep into primary forest.
I wish I could say that some of the largest players in the palm oil industry, such as Cargill, are doing everything in their power to ensure that controversial palm oil coming from these types of tragedies isn’t ending up in their supply chain (and our pantries), but that is definitely not the case.
RAN’s report, Truth and Consequences: Palm Oil Plantations Push Unique Orangutan Population to Brink of Extinction, points out that Cargill has no safeguards on its global palm oil supply chain, and that without such safeguards Cargill cannot ensure it is not contributing to egregious violations like the one underway in the Tripa peat forest of Indonesia.
Although Cargill is still misleading the public by releasing statements like the one from last week, titled, “Cargill Refutes Rainforest Action Network claims about Tripa Forest,” the bottom line remains: Cargill traffics a whopping 25% of the world’s palm oil and Cargill cannot ensure it is not trading palm oil from Tripa or parent companies profiting from the destruction of Tripa because it has no safeguards whatsoever in place to prevent it.
RAN released an official response to Cargill’s misleading claims last week with the following key points:
- Cargill claims that it “does not import Indonesian palm oil to the United States.” This is pure obfuscation. By Cargill’s own estimate, nearly 90 percent of the world’s palm oil is sourced from Indonesia and Malaysia, and the company traffics 25 percent of the world’s palm oil. Cargill’s claim that it does not ship any Indonesian palm oil into the U.S. is misleading and insincere, as a percentage of Indonesia’s palm oil is refined in Malaysia before being shipped to the US.
- Cargill also claims that it is not associated with the devastating fires raging throughout the Tripa rainforest of Indonesia. Cargill is hiding behind a shell game of shifting company ownership and complicated trade relationships between a web of subsidiary suppliers. However, the fact is that Cargill has a history of trading with at least one company that has profited from the destruction of the priceless Tripa rainforest.Trade data held by Rainforest Action Network shows that Cargill shipped at least 4,000 tons of crude palm oil produced by Astra Agro Lestari from the island of Sumatra in 2009. Astra Agro Lestari produced and exported palm oil from Tripa until at least 2010.According to Bloomberg, Astra Agro Lestari also sells millions of dollars of palm oil a year to industry giants Wilmar and Sinar Mas — two major suppliers of palm oil to Cargill. With a lack of supply chain transparency and no safeguards to prevent it, Cargill cannot in good faith claim never to have sold palm oil connected to the destruction of the endangered Tripa forest.
- Cargill has an enormous influence to exercise on the global palm oil market. The only way Cargill can guarantee it is not contributing to the devastation underway in Indonesia is if it adopts explicit environmental, social and transparency safeguards to prevent it, which does not mean relying on a third party like the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). It does mean taking responsibility for the practices of its suppliers. Cargill as a company has not articulated its values for its supply chain, meaning it does not publicly position itself against common abuses associated with palm oil production like slave labor and deforestation. Cargill has stated an intention to phase RSPO-certified oil into its global supply chain by 2020. However, the RSPO has at best a very spotty track record of enforcing its own rules to prevent tragedies like the one underway in Tripa. At the rate of destruction occurring today, 2020 is too little, too late for the forests, people and wildlife of Southeast Asia.
Just last week, Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of palm oil, announced a commitment to buy all of its palm oil, including its palm kernel oil, from traceable sources by 2020. Cargill’s modest commitments explicitly exclude palm kernel oil, an important commodity in the US market. Cargill also has no commitment to traceability, a crucial element for achieving transparency and accountability.
Cargill is showing an alarming failure to deliver on its time-bound commitments, including to secure RSPO certification for all of its palm oil plantations by the end of 2010, and completion of a survey and review of the practices of its palm oil suppliers by early 2011.
This post was originally published by Rainforest Action Network.
- Setting the Record Straight: Cargill and Tripa Forest Controversy (understory.ran.org)
- SOCP Tripa Battle Call (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Take Action: Orangutan Forest on Fire (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- MEDIA ALERT: Orangutan rescue taking place in Tripa Peat Swamp Forest – RIGHT NOW! (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Tragedy in Tripa: Cargill Can Make a Difference (understory.ran.org)
- Next steps to save Tripa forest …Lindsey Allen, Rainforest Action Network (point4counterpoint.wordpress.com)