A large number of forest fires have been discovered on
Indonesian plantations owned by global palm oil companies Bumitama and Wilmar
International. Despite new evidence that both companies violate their own ‘no
deforestation’ policies, major U.S. and European investors have not taken
significant steps to address these problems, according to a new report released today.
Developed by Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the
Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie), Friends of the Earth US and Friends of the
Earth Indonesia (WALHI), the ‘Up in Smoke’ report is based
on research into five palm oil plantations owned by Bumitama and Wilmar
International in Indonesia. Fires were detected in all of the plantations.
Wilmar and Bumitama denied they were responsible for starting them, but they
failed to provide any evidence to support their position. According to
Indonesian law, the companies are legally responsible for the fires.
Anne van Schaik, campaigner at Friends of the Earth
“Banks and pension funds in the UK, Netherlands, France
and the United States are providing direct financing to Bumitama and Wilmar,
despite having publicly committed to good practice criteria that should prevent
them financing such destructive activities. This report shows yet again that
the Indonesian palm oil sector continues to be a high risk environment, as
voluntary corporate commitments all-too-easily go up in smoke.”
Despite both palm oil companies adopting their own ‘no
burning and no exploitation on peat’ policies, the report says they have
systematically violated national laws by developing palm oil on peatland,
destroying high carbon stock areas and allowing forest fires in their areas.
It also provides evidence that the two companies are being
financed by UK, Dutch, French and U.S. financiers, including a number of major
international banks. Several of these financiers have their own policies on
environmental and social sustainability which are intended to prevent them
financing companies involved in forest fires and deforestation.
Added to this, the report says the Indonesia government has
failed to prevent plantations from being developed on fragile peat lands,
despite installing a moratorium in 2011 forbidding companies from developing
plantations on peat deeper than three metres.
With social movements, world governments and corporations
currently gathered in Paris for the UN climate talks, the Friends of the Earth
groups have stated that the voluntary policies of the companies and their
financiers cannot be trusted. They have called on the EU and US governments to
introduce and implement strong and binding laws in order to stop the fires.
Arie Rompas, director Walhi Central Kalimanten -
Friends of the Earth Indonesia said:
“The fires of 2015 caused enormous health and
environmental problems for hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia and
neighbouring countries. On certain days our emissions from the fires alone
soared to almost 97% of Indonesia’s total emissions. We need urgent action by
our leaders who are gathering now in Paris to hold companies accountable for
stopping emissions wherever they occur.”
Based on the report’s findings, the environment
organisations have called for a range of actions which they say must be taken
to stop the forest fires:
- The companies should obey regulations issued by the
Ministry of Environment and Forestry regarding the prohibition to open up
peatlands and ensure rehabilitation of forests and peatlands burned within
their concessions, and take responsibility for damages to the people and lands impacted
by the fires and haze in the burned areas.
- At local level, local government in Indonesia must obey
and implement regulations, the Indonesian authorities must tackle corporate
crime, and the palm oil companies that have allowed burning within their
concession areas must be held responsible for the fires.
- At national level, the Indonesian government must review
all of the permits given to palm oil developers, must implement the peat
moratorium and ensure no palm oil plantations are developed on peat lands, and
must strongly demand that the companies take responsible for the rehabilitation
of the land and the people impacted by the haze in the area.
- At global level, there must be solutions agreed at the UN
climate talks in Paris that benefit people and the planet. Financiers linked to
Wilmar and Bumitama should withdraw their financial services to both companies,
the EU and US government should regulate theses financiers, and new and binding
rules on transnational corporations and financiers must be introduced.