INDONESIA: Palm Oil Producer Unethical, Groups Say

Publisher Name: 
The Associated Press

A Singapore-based company was involved in slashing and burning
Indonesian forests to make way for palm oil plantations that feed the
growing market for biofuels, environmental and activist groups claimed
Tuesday. The company emphatically denied the allegations.

The
Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth and Indonesian rights group Lembaga
Gemawan published a 100-page report they said details evidence that
subsidiaries of Wilmar International Ltd. dodged environmental rules to
plant palm trees in West Kalimantan.

But a Wilmar spokeswoman called the accusations "erroneous, misleading and defamatory."

"As
a responsible corporate citizen, the Wilmar Group is fully committed to
sustainable palm oil," Carolyn Lim Wan Yu wrote in an e-mailed reaction.

Past
studies by environmental groups have - without naming names - found
that developers in Malaysia and Indonesia burned vast tracts of rain
forest to grow palm oil. The fires unleashed millions of tons of carbon
dioxide, defeating the purpose of developing palm-based biodiesel fuel
as a renewable source of energy that does not contribute to greenhouse
gases.

Tuesday's report attempts to identify Wilmar - one of the
world's largest palm-oil producers - as one of those responsible, by
focusing on one small part of the company's operations. But Wilmar
offered a point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations.

The groups
said they had found evidence of "burning with the intention to clear
land ... plantation development without approved environmental impact
assessments, (and) land rights conflicts resulting from encroachment
outside areas allocated" by government concession.

Activist Laili
Kharnur of Lembaga Gemawan traveled from Indonesia to Amsterdam for the
report's release and to file complaints with several Dutch banks that
finance Wilmar. In an interview with The Associated Press, she said she
had witnessed first hand the misery caused by illegal deforestation.

"For
instance, in the village of Senujuh, in Sejangkung subdistrict, Wilmar
cut down the trees or forests, of which 400 hectares (nearly 1,000
acres) (are) not in Wilmar's concession area. This is owned by
villagers," Kharnur said.

The villagers "lost their trees, they
lost their natural resources, because they depend on the forest for
food, for their livelihood also. If you take my trees, it's as if you
took my life," she said.

In a response, Wilmar denied outright
ever setting fires or failing to acquire proper development permits. It
said that "minor disagreements and conflicts among villagers/villages
in and around our plantation projects do sometimes arise ... (but) in
cases where the communities are not supportive of the project, we will
not proceed."

Anne van Schaik, a spokeswoman for Friends of the
Earth's Dutch arm, Environmental Defense, said the report was released
on Tuesday in part to influence the Dutch government. A parliamentary
debate is scheduled for Wednesday on what steps should be taken to
ensure crops used to create biofuels as replacements for oil and gas do
not do more harm than good.

The Netherlands is Europe's biggest
importer of palm oil, used in a wide range of supermarket products as
well as an alternative to fossil fuels.

The Dutch guidelines may
act as a template for other European nations. A draft version released
this year says production of biofuels should not contribute to
deforestation, deplete reservoirs of carbon captured in the earth,
degrade soil or water supplies, or displace local populations.


AMP Section Name:Environment
  • 190 Natural Resources