Palm oil companies have been blamed for some of the worst environmental destruction in recent times, specifically the wide-scale destruction of Indonesia’s critically important rainforests and peatlands which have led to numerous disastrous outcomes including Southeast Asia’s annual haze crisis. In an effort to combat that image, Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader, made a commitment to end deforestation five years ago. But now, Greenpeace says that they have proof that the company is responsible for the destruction of forests on a massive scale.
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According to a new investigative report from the international environmental activist NGO, Wilmar bears responsibility for the destruction of an enormous area of rainforest located in Papua and twice the size of Paris.The deforestation was committed by a company named Gama, which has been closely linked to Wilmar.
“Our investigation has exposed Wilmar’s dirty secret. For years, Wilmar and Gama have worked together, with Gama doing the dirty work so Wilmar’s hands stay clean. But now the truth is out, and Wilmar CEO Kuok Khoon Hong must act now to save his reputation. Wilmar must immediately cut off all palm oil suppliers that can’t prove they aren’t destroying rainforests,” said Kiki Taufik, the global head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Indonesian forests campaign, in the report’s press release.
Gama was set up by Wilmar’s co-founder, Martua Sitorus and his brother Ganda in 2011. The company’s concessions are owned and managed by members of Ganda’s and Martua Sitorus’s family, including Wilmar’s Country Head and Deputy Country Head for Indonesia.
According to Greenpeace, they have satellite and mapping data proving that Gama has destroyed about 21,500 hectares of rainforests and peatlands in the five years following Wilmar’s 2013 ‘no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation’ pledge. Obviously, that deforestation, linked to Wilmar, would be very much in violation of their pledge.
Greenpeace says that Wilmar has a history of evading responsibility for environmental and human rights abuses by selling off its most controversial land concessions to Gama. Additionally, trade records show that Wilmar continued to sell palm oil from Gama to many of the world’s biggest brands, despite being aware that Gama was clearly violating Wilmar’s NDPE pledge.
“Wilmar has been trading Gama’s oil all over the world, including to brands like P&G, Nestlé and Unilever. Brands cannot let this deception pass unchallenged, and have no choice but to suspend all business with Wilmar until it can prove it only trades clean palm oil from responsible producers,” Kiki said.
In response to Greenpeace’s accusations, Wilmar sent a fax denying that their company and Gama were part of one group and noted that Wilmar had no shareholding interest in the group of companies they refer to as “Gama Group”, though they do admit that Gama is run by Wilmar senior executives and members of their family. They also admit they should have been more “stringent” in sourcing palm oil from Gama Group companies to make sure they were compliant with their no deforestation policy and claimed they would immediately stop trading in palm oil from Gama until it has been fully audited.
As Greenpeace notes in their report, “Southeast Asia’s plantation sector is notorious for using shell companies run by managers or family members to hide deforestation. Just last month, Greenpeace broke ties with Asia Pulp and Paper, Indonesia’s largest paper company, after detecting deforestation in two concessions linked to APP and its parent company the Sinar Mas Group.”
Greenpeace is calling on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to group Wilmar and Gama as a single entity in line with their membership rules and suspend both companies until the rainforest that Gama destroyed is replanted.