Reports from around the globe paint a distressing portrait of palm-oil expansion, with land disputes, violent conflicts, and even murders carried out on behalf of palm-oil barons. “It’s a modern-day gold rush,” says Laurel Sutherlin of the Rainforest Action Network, a nonprofit with one of the most active and visible campaigns against palm oil. “Especially in the last decade, there has been a meteoric rise in global demand for palm oil.
Deforestation is at the top of the CIA’s list of environmental issues facing Indonesia, and much of it can be attributed to the creation of palm oil plantations, built to satisfy demands of the American market, which has increased the import of palm oil by 485 percent over the last decade.
The company, like many others in the sector, is aggressively expanding to take advantage of rising demand – and Yeow says that is good for people and the economy. “We kill the competition,” he says.
But the industry also has a reputation for killing natural forests and, in the process, the animals that depend on them. As non-profit groups like Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) have raised awareness about the impact the industry is having on the environment, company executives say they are feeling the pressure to adopt better business practices.
Afterward we had coffee on the veranda of the great house that overlooked the sprawling, 8,000-hectacre property, the size of a small national park. Chok stressed the importance of corporate social responsibility like a mantra and said his company spends nearly $1 million every year to take care of migrant children. In the "competition" to retain experienced workers, Chok added that doing the right thing also made good business sense. (Singapore-based Wilmar has its critics, however.
"I think this will stand as one of the biggest market-based campaign successes that we've seen in a long time," says Laurel Sutherlin of the Rainforest Action Network, which, along with Greenpeace and other environmental groups, sp