The true price of palm oil

Documents obtained from a palm oil company representative by an undercover Global Witness reporter.
Global Witness | 7 October 2021

The true price of palm oil

How global finance funds deforestation, violence and human rights abuses in Papua New Guinea
The climate crisis is no longer projection, but reality. Forests play a key role in regulating the global climate and are critical to preventing runaway global heating. They are also a treasure trove of biological diversity, and home to many indigenous peoples and forest communities. Yet forests continue to be burned and destroyed at an alarming rate. The primary driver of deforestation is agribusiness, with palm oil a chief culprit.
Global Witness went undercover to investigate the growing threat facing Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) communities and tropical forests from palm oil companies driving widespread deforestation and human rights abuses. This investigation now implicates three of PNG’s newest palm oil producers in what appears to be serious criminality and other harms. For the first time, we show how this tainted product is being sourced by world-famous brands and their business financed by iconic banks and investors:
  • Palm oil executives and senior employees tell undercover Global Witness investigators they bribed officials including a Papua New Guinean government minister; paid police to brutalize villagers; used child labour; and participated in an apparent tax evasion scheme.
  • The Malaysian-backed firms clear-felled tens of thousands of hectares of Papua New Guinean rainforest, which supports rural communities and is among the most biodiverse in the world.
  • Tainted palm oil and its derivatives from Papua New Guinea plantations were sold on to well-known big brands including Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Colgate, Danone, Hershey, and PZ Cussons and Reckitt Benckiser, the parent companies of Imperial Leather and Strepsils.
  • One palm oil firm, Rimbunan Hijau, negligently ignored repeated and avoidable worker deaths and injuries on palm oil plantations.
  • Global financiers such as BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, are indirectly profiting from these human rights and environmental abuses through investing in banks notorious for financing harmful palm oil firms.
  • A pattern of coercion and violence right across PNG has denied local people the traditional use of forests integral to their culture and livelihoods. Huge areas of tropical forests have been deforested, and much more remains at risk unless action is taken.
Global Witness is calling for companies named in this report to be held to account for causing, contributing to, or profiting from harms linked to their global operations. International financiers ought not to be bankrolling these companies - and governments need to regulate to stop bankers enabling this industry’s excesses.

Read the full report
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