Indonesian fires fuelled by "sustainable" palm oil plantations

20th November 2015

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Robert Slatcher

Companies have not done enough to stop suppliers from destroying forests and peatlands in Indonesia, according to Greenpeace.

The organisation examined three plantations in west and central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), where major fires have occurred this year. In each case, large-scale deforestation and peatland drainage had taken place before the fires broke out, it said.

Two of the oil palm plantations investigated by Greenpeace are linked to IOI Group, which is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The NGO is calling on companies to make available their concession data (the area allocated by a government or other body for industrial-scale oil palm plantations), and announce what they will do to protect forests and peatlands and ensure the plantations are not contributing to fires.

It also wants the RSPO to publish members' concession maps, which the roundtable agreed to at its annual conference two years ago, according to Greenpeace.

The NGO said steps currently being taken by companies are not been enough to stop suppliers destroying forests and peatlands. Commodity traders and companies that buy palm oil and pulp from Indonesia should work together to enforce an industry-wide ban on deforestation and development on peatland, including cutting off third-party suppliers who do not comply.

Annisa Rahmawati, Indonesia forest campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "Despite years of talk, palm oil companies are still fanning the flames of Indonesia's forest fires. Those that continue to clear rainforest and drain peatland must be locked out of the market."

No-one from the IOI Group or the RSPO was available for comment.

Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at RSPO founding member WWF said: "IOI is a member of the RSPO and has made positive 'no deforestation' commitments and pledges to protect valuable peat soils, yet the report by Greenpeace reveals the challenges that remain in the palm oil production chain."

Greenpeace's findings emphasise the urgency for greater supply chain transparency and increased efforts to implement and enforce policy commitments, she said. "Companies like IOI must work with other palm oil companies, with local government and with smallholder farmers to find solutions that work," she added.

Meanwhile, the RSPO has launched RSPO Next, a voluntary add-on to its standard. It is aimed at growers that have exceeded the criteria in the existing standard and companies wanting to meet the new benchmark will have to prove action on issues including deforestation, peatland development and indigenous peoples' rights through third-party verification.

Companies would be audited on the scope and content of their policies and have to undergo an "on-the-ground assessment", the RSPO said. The standard also requires more public reporting on various issues.

Adam Harrison, WWF's lead on palm oil, said the new standard is evidence the RSPO is meeting its pledge to continuously improve.

"WWF calls on all RSPO stakeholders to do their part to ensure the success of RSPO Next - palm oil growers need to commit to implement RSPO Next, palm oil buyers need to commit to buying it and NGOs and banks need to commit to support it," he said.

Earlier this week, the UK government published a progress report on sustainable palm oil. Imports of segregated and mass balance certified sustainable palm oil and purchases of GreenPalm certificates by UK companies have risen from an estimated 55% of all palm oil imports in 2013 to 72% in 2014, or from 71% in 2013 to 93% in 2014, depending on which baseline is used. The figures exclude finished products.

The report outlines action on palm oil by different business sectors. The Food and Drink Federation said more than 85% of palm oil users buy only certified sustainable supplies and the proportion will exceed 90% by the end of 2015. Leading companies have published revised targets, taking them beyond the RSPO, it said.

The government had a target for departments that procure catering services to source only sustainable palm oil by the end of 2015. Some departments claimed they were already sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil, with "a large majority" reporting that they are "making good progress", according to the government.


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