Saturday, November 15, 2014

Palm Oil Giants and the Snack Food 20 appear to be crumbling under pressure . . . but is it just (diesel) smoke and mirrors?

November saw what appears to be amazing news: multinational corporations that supply and use palm oil are publically announcing new and stringent de-forestation and fair labor policies for their companies and individual plantations.  But this weary erstwhile Aceh forest-dweller wonders: will this really translate into Indonesian and Aceh-based support and implementation of these lofty pronouncements?

Some fabulous eco-warrior-type sites and blogs began reporting this month that as a result of concentrated pressure by campaigns led by Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, Forest Heroes, and a host of other NGOs who mobilized a groundswell of grassroots support, the number of multinational companies that say they are committed to supplying and using only deforestation-free palm oil is growing fast. More than 20 global food companies have now made no-deforestation pledges and the big traders Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) have both made commitments that are far stronger than the standards established by the much-maligned Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).” [which is about time--have I not been saying for years that RSPO is a circuitous crock?]

Heavy machinery makes new terraces for oil palm trees in freshly cleared forest inside the Leuser Ecosystem. Local activists say this clearing is illegal. Photo: Michael Bachelard.  See Michel’s video of  Aceh rainforest destruction at

“What a difference a season makes!” commented Forest Heroes, reporting that IOI Loders Croklaan, the world’s largest palm oil trader and recently labeled  “The Worst Company You’ve Never Heard Of” by FH, established a palm oil policy this month requiring zero-deforestation sourcing requirements.

However, like me, the gang at Forest Heroes is not so easily charmed by well-paid rhetoric. “This can’t just be a policy on paper,” said FH Director Deborah Lapidus. “Given IOI’s record, they need to move rapidly to make their supply chain transparent, address serious human rights issues, and secure participation from a credible implementation partner. While we welcome IOI’s commitment to apply the new policy to IOI Group, third party suppliers and subsidiaries, we urge IOI Group to formally adopt the zero-deforestation policy right away.”

Most of the companies leaping onto the we-promise-to-be-good-honest-we-do bandwagon have stated compliance dates for some of their holdings/farms/subsidiaries by the end of 2015. “Wilmar has committed to no development of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests or High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, no burning, a progressive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on existing plantations, and no development on peat, regardless of depth.  Its commitment also includes zero tolerance of child, forced and bonded labour and no exploitation of local communities. This includes respecting the rights of indigenous and local communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to operations on lands to which they hold legal, communal or customary rights.

“A significant initiative was taken in New York in September. Wilmar, Cargill, GAR, and Asian Agri signed the Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge, [see The Forest Trust at] an agreement that includes a commitment to greener palm oil development policies, more social benefits for workers, and further cooperation in establishing a mechanism to implement pledges. The signatories have also called on the Indonesian government to do more to protect forests.”  [I’ll just bet they have.]

In all of these cases, there’s language there that to my mind still keeps the door open for expansion.  And as far as monitoring all of this . . . well that has always been the issue and I cannot find any information on any of these announcements how accurate monitoring (and maintaining) of these policies is to be conducted.

Call me an old pessimist, but . . . no, just go ahead and call me one.  JMD lives right next to these plantations.  I’ll ask the gang how many armed plantation protectors disappear within the next few months—the disgruntled and jobless ex-combatants who are now paid to make sure no one gets too far in to hear the chainsaws or see the women being assaulted. I’ll bet I know the answer.

However, this may (and I stress “may”) signal a tiny new trend.  Palm oil is too lucrative for the very powerful few to go away any time soon.  The Wilmars and Cargills and Dunkin Donuts of the world can (and might) forgo a little profit in order to regain the goodwill of the pastry-eating public.  But the Indonesian government, the Aceh provincial authority, and the local billionaires who cold give a rat’s ass about their own natural resources? Getting transparent, fair and equitable policies and implementation out of them will be damn near impossible, I am sorry to say.

I wish I were wrong.  But I bet we will not see any time soon a headline that reads

“Provincial and National governments abandon plan to re-zone Aceh’s protected forests for commercial use; instead designate all remaining peat and forestland as protected and/or World Heritage Sites”

Go ahead, Forest Heroes, Rainforest Alliance, and all the lobbyists at Wilmar, Cargill and IOI—prove me wrong!!!

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