Greenpeace International says the palm oil producer Darmex Agro has destroyed hundreds of hectares of tiger habitat in an area of Indonesian rainforest that should be protected under a government moratorium.
In a new report, “A Dirty Business”, the environmental campaigning organisation said that that Darmex Agro – generally known as Duta Palma – is behind the clearance of peatland adjacent to the official boundaries of one of its concessions in Riau, Sumatra.
Duta Palma is one of Indonesia’s largest palm oil producers and is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO); its operations were first exposed by Greenpeace in 2007.
“Duta Palma is a textbook example of why the RSPO urgently needs to tighten its standards and enforcement,” said Wirendro Sumargo, palm oil campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
“Unless repeat offenders such as Duta Palma are expelled, and the standard is tightened to stop deforestation, the RSPO will be rightly seen as toothless. It needs to act now, while we’ve still got some tigers left.”
The RSPO, which involves growers, processors, food companies, investors and NGOs, was set up in 2004 and has more than 1,000 members. Its purpose is to encourage the production of sustainable palm oil, i.e. palm oil that has been cultivated outside of areas that have a high conservation value.
While the roundtable’s aims are laudable, there are numerous loopholes, and some companies are improving their image by becoming RSPO members while producing very little sustainable oil.
Producers only have to certify a portion of their crop as sustainable to become RSPO members. If a company had a 15,000 hectare concession and half of it was covered with forest, it would only have to agree to protect a portion of that forest to satisfy the RSPO criteria.
Greenpeace says Duta Palma’s involvement in deforestation, community conflict, and illegality, and its non-compliance with RSPO regulations go back many years. “As recently as April 7, 2013, the district parliament condemned ongoing conflict between Duta Palma and local communities, which led to loss of life in May,” Sumargo said.
Greenpeace investigators say they were told that Indonesia’s forestry ministry has not issued a permit for the peatland location that has been cleared. The land is within an area that, according to official charts, is covered by the government’s moratorium on deforestation.
“In a bid to clean up the international image of the palm oil sector, the Indonesian government has spoken many fine words about cracking down on companies like Duta Palma,” Sumargo said. “The government has the power to revoke licences, and has promised it will. It’s time now for it to put its words into action.”
The international palm oil trading firm Cargill, which is based in the US, says it says it no longer trades with Duta Palma.
Cargill owns and operates two palm plantations in Indonesia and 12 palm oil refineries across the world. The multinational has pledged that all the palm oil products it supplies in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand will be RSPO-certified by 2015. It says it will make the commitment worldwide by 2020.
“Other traders such as Wilmar and Sime Darby that have supplied Duta Palma’s dirty palm oil to the international market need to come clean about their supply chains,” Sumargo said.
The RSPO is meeting today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in an extraordinary general assembly to vote on revisions to its principles and criteria. Greenpeace says the revisions will fail to prohibit further clearance of carbon-rich forests.