Almost six months after the release of its Sustainable Forest Management Policy, Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL)—the second-largest Indonesian pulp & paper company—continues business-as-usual rainforest destruction, betraying the spirit and substance of its policy.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in May that APRIL-owned PT RAPP cleared massive swaths of carbon-rich peatlands on Pulau Padang, an island off the Sumatran coast that APRIL promised to help restore. Members of island community Desa Bagan Melibur have called on APRIL to terminate operations on their community land, and Desa Bagan Melibur’s May 17 protest is the most recent clash in a stark legacy of land disputes between APRIL and Padang’s thirteen villages since 2009.
Pulau Padang’s peatlands store millions of tons of carbon and are home to endangered species and communities that depend on these forests for their livelihoods. You could also say the island itself is endangered: decaying peat causes the low-lying island to subside, and scientists warn that if no action is taken, Padang may very well be under sea level and useless for any type of cultivation by 2050.
APRIL’s forest policy itself is rife with loopholes and allows APRIL to continue slashing natural forests in its concessions through December and source rainforest fiber until 2020. Yet the company’s refusal to uphold even its weak policy commitments brings APRIL’s intentions entirely into doubt. In addition to the Pulau Padang case, earlier this year, APRIL suppliers were caught clearing natural forests on legally protected peat land in Borneo and high conservation value forest on peat land in Riau. In the latter case, not only were internationally protected ramin trees cut down, but APRIL supplier PT Triomas allegedly attempted to hide the evidence by burying the contraband logs.
There is mounting recognition that APRIL’s policy and actions are insufficient and not credible. Last Friday, RAN and an international collation of allies co-authored a letter highlighting the severe shortcomings in APRIL’s policies, such as the lack of a moratorium on natural forest and peat land conversion, unclear commitments on resolving social conflicts, and the policy’s narrow scope, which does not extend to cover APRIL’s sister companies within owner Sukanto Tanoto’s rogue cartel of companies, such as Toba Pulp Lestari, Sateri, and Asian Agri. The letter also points to the inadequacy and questionable credibility of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) APRIL set up to help develop, implement, and monitor the forest policy in a transparent and independent manner.
APRIL’s new policy and the SAC risk being nothing but a parade of environmental lip service built on teetering scaffolds of environmental destruction, social conflict, and corruption. Customers and financiers must cut ties with APRIL and other companies owned by Sukanto Tanoto and pressure APRIL to end rainforest clearing and respect community rights.
Ideally, we had hoped that with the RSPO, these conflicts would be stopped or at least reduced, and the rights of the communities be restored. But we’re not seeing any impact with the RSPO. This is evident in the ninth meeting we’ve had with the RSPO. There has not been any change; the conflicts have not decreased. The presence of RSPO has not reduced or resolved the conflicts.Uki is referring to the more than 600 cases of social conflict related to palm oil in Indonesia documented by Sawit Watch. In the same press conference, Jefri Gideon of Sawit Watch said: “There is a big hope among everyone that the RSPO can help resolve these conflicts.” He urged RSPO members to go beyond talking about the RSPO principles and criteria and code of conduct and actually implement them. During the same week, the Jakarta Globe published two articles, "Indonesian Palm Oil Dispute at ‘Crisis Point’" and "Paradise Lost at Hands of Palm Oil Companies", about a separate conflict surrounding the village of Muara Tae on the island of Borneo. Muara Tae is in a stand-off with a palm oil firm whose forest clearing threatens the villagers’ entire way of life. Community member Petrus Asuy issued an impassioned plea, saying, “Because of the palm oil plantations, our water has become polluted and many of our springs have dried up. We took our case to the local government, but they ignored us. We are completely against these companies because they have compromised our way of life. What hope is there now for our grandchildren? We are pleading for help for our situation and for this activity to stop.” It has become abundantly clear that wherever massive international commodity corporations are granted huge forest concessions and allowed free reign to manage them, community conflict and environmental devastation quickly follow. It is more imperative than ever that companies like Cargill and Wilmar immediately address the serious problems of human rights abuses and rainforest destruction in their supply chains and become a part of the solution to this crisis instead of indiscriminately trafficking palm oil into North American and European markets. Please take a moment to ask Cargill CEO Greg Page to adopt safeguards to keep controversial palm oil out of American food products.
“Before we had a happy life,” Ms. Gaong said she tells her grandchildren. “Now it’s a difficult life. There’s nothing left for them.”[caption id="attachment_16702" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The future of these children remains at stake until the companies responsible for palm oil plantation expansion in Borneo start respecting human rights."][/caption] The recent story in the New York Times titled "Clashes Between Tribes and Agribusiness Increase in Malaysia" tells an all-too common story. It's not a happy story. It's the story of farming families getting forced off their land, of vanishing cultures, of corporations trying to "compensate" families for their livelihoods and decades of subsistence with $1,600.
Indigenous people in Malaysia have long complained that their historical claims to their land are being sacrificed in the name of progress. But as the country continues its push toward economic prosperity, with key commodities like palm oil a valuable export, rights groups and lawyers say that encroachment on indigenous land is increasing.Read the powerful story for yourself. It takes place in Sarawak, which is Malaysia's largest state on the northwest coast of Borneo. The state is known for its natural and cultural wonders, but Malaysian palm oil producers are destroying Borneo's carbon-rich peat forests faster than ever before. According to Mongabay and Wetlands International, “more than one third (353,000 hectares or 872,000 acres) of Sarawak's peatswamp forests and ten percent of the state's rainforests were cleared between 2005 and 2010. About 65 percent of the area was converted for oil palm.” The article goes on to say:
The land that he says once thrived with an abundance of crops that fed his family and provided their livelihood has been stripped bare. Young palm trees now sprout from the ochre-colored earth where he says his relatives had lived since before World War II.Indigenous peoples and forest communities are not the only ones impacted by palm oil expansion. From an interview with Dr. Marc Ancrenanz of HUTAN in 2010:
Genetic studies in Sabah show that orang-utan population have declined by 50 to 90% over the past few decades. This severe decline is due to several causes such as hunting and pet trade, but the foremost reason is forest losses when the forest is cut down and converted to agriculture.So we have to ask ourselves: Is using palm oil in Girl Scout cookies or Skippy Peanut Butter worth the wholesale destruction of cultural and ecological biodiversity that it creates?
Cargill is buying its oil from companies connected to some of the very worst examples of corporate environmental destruction and human rights abuses. This is yet another of many examples RAN has identified in our three years of campaigning on Cargill that demonstrates the immediate need for the company to adopt a comprehensive palm oil policy.Until Cargill adopts the following basic safeguards, the company can't guarantee to American consumers that slave labor is not ending up in their food: SOCIAL SAFEGUARDS - A commitment to resolve social and land rights tenure conflicts, a no-trade position for growers using child or slave labor, adherence to obtaining free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of forest-dependent communities before lands are acquired or developed, and a commitment to implement the United Nations “protect, respect and remedy” framework for human rights.* ENVIRONMENTAL SAFEGUARDS - A commitment to reduce biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions by ending the expansion of palm oil plantations into High Conservation Value (HCV) areas including critical habitat, peatlands and High Carbon Stock forests and/or remaining natural forests. PUBLIC TRANSPARENCY - A commitment to transparent and consistent reporting of metrics and targets as well as regular stakeholder and rights-holder engagement. As if being implicated in slave labor wasn't enough damage for Cargill's brand in one week, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesia partner, Telapak, recently exposed a juicy scandal that implicates Cargill in a dirty mess of illegal logging through its ties to the same company—KLK. The evidence provided by EIA and Telapak proves that KLK cleared carbon-rich peat forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province illegally as the company failed to secure proper licenses. This scandal was documented on the very first day of Indonesia's logging moratorium — a cornerstone of Norway's $1 billion climate deal with Indonesia. According to the report, the Norwegian Government has a $41.5 million shareholding in KLK, thereby standing to profit from the company's recently exposed illegal clearance.
TAKE ACTIONAsk Cargill to adopt basic supply chain safeguards to prevent palm oil that causes rainforest destruction and human rights violations from tainting America’s food supply. **A commitment to implement the United Nations “protect, respect and remedy framework” over civil and political, social, economic, cultural and environmental rights of affected communities and vulnerable groups of indigenous peoples, migrant workers, women and children. - Human Right Council, March 2011. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework
Dear RSPO Leadership, With disbelief and outrage we have taken notice of RSPO's announcement about 'considerable progress in the past 21 days with regards to interaction between involved parties' on IOI Corporation Berhad Grievance Case. (RSPO website, 25 May 2011). We are dismayed with another prolongation by RSPO, and the lack of transparency in handling the process. The complainants of the grievance have seen no improvement in the interaction with IOI nor with RSPO. Our feedback to RSPO, given jointly by all complainants, has also made sufficiently clear that we are deeply concerned that IOI Group's current proposal will not resolve the issues. Since the previous update on RSPO's website from 4 May, we have not seen anything black-on-white proving that the company is willing to take responsibility for their illegal opening of land in Ketapang, or their willingness to mitigate the environmental damage done, or their commitment to recognize the land rights of the people of Long Teran Kanan. The company has not communicated with us directly about possible improvements of their action plan. Instead of considerable progress, since May 4, we have merely seen IOI breaking down progress with increasingly vigilant public denials of its problems in Sarawak and Ketapang. An example of which is an article on IOI's website that allegations against IOI would just be not true. This will not do. We again call on the RSPO to take more decisive action to hold IOI Corporation to account, including a suspension of all RSPO certificates for IOI's estates and mills, until the grievance issues are indeed solved. With kind regards, Grassroots Lembaga Gemawan Kontak Rakyat Borneo Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN-AP) Rainforest Action Network Sarawak Indigenous Lawyers Association (SILA) Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) Save our Borneo Sawit Watch Tenaganita Vereniging Milieudefensie Friends of the Earth Europe WALHI Kalimantan Barat
Dear Mr. Page and employees of Cargill, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) would like to extend a formal invitation for you and your employees at Cargill Inc. to attend a screening of your choice, at our expense, of the new IMAX 3D feature film Born To Be Wild. This inspiring film features exquisite footage of young orangutans and baby elephants and tells the stories of the compassionate humans working to rehabilitate them back to the wild. The film is uplifting in spirit and focuses primarily on these two amazing animals and the heart-warming efforts of people trying to help them, while also highlighting serious but often overlooked issues central to the business operations of Cargill. Many of the orangutans featured in the film were orphaned because their parents were killed when their rainforest habitat was cleared to make room for palm oil plantations. Orangutans are critically endangered and live only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Unfortunately, this is an all too common story. As the number one importer of palm oil into the United States, Cargill has a unique role to play to ensure that rampant palm oil development does not continue to result in rainforest destruction and orangutan extinction. We understand that the forests of Indonesia are a long way from Wayzata, Minnesota, and it can be difficult to fully connect the dots between business decisions made here and the costs these incur to people and places literally a world away. There is a very real risk that iconic animals like the orangutan could be pushed into extinction within our lifetimes, but it does not have to be this way. Strangely enough, it may well be businessmen headquartered in places like the Twin Cities who ultimately decide their fate. So please accept this opportunity to allow IMAX 3D to bring the rainforest to you. We feel so strongly that it is important for you to see this film that we are offering to pay for tickets for the first 100 Cargill employees who email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will arrange for tickets to be reserved at the theater confidentially and with no strings attached. To view a trailer for the film and find other background materials on this issue, please visit www.ran.org/wild. Sincerely, Becky Tarbotton Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas Director, Orangutan Foundation International