Shocking: Palm oil watchdog takes five years to address and dismiss deforestation complaint

Palm oil plantation in Indonesia (Photo: EIA)

EIA | 24 October 2023

Shocking: Palm oil watchdog takes five years to address and dismiss deforestation complaint

After a delay of almost five years to the day, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has finally got around to addressing a complaint filed against a company linked to clearing Papuan rainforests.

EIA UK, together with Greenpeace, submitted the complaint back in October 2018, but it has taken until now for the RSPO to reach a conclusion, dismissing the complaint on the basis of insubstantial evidence.

The complaint related to breaches of the RSPO rules:

  • that RSPO member companies had not declared they were involved in managing/owning palm oil plantation companies in Papua
  • that these plantation companies had carried out deforestation in breach of RSPO rules.

EIA Forest Campaigner Siobhan Pearce said: “The fact it took the RSPO five years to reach such a conclusion is shocking.”

The RSPO is one of the world’s most well-known certification schemes – but its seal of approval lacks credibility as its members continue to be exposed for violations of the body’s own standard.

Palm oil is found in a huge array of products from shampoos to foodstuffs; its production has been consistently linked to rainforest destruction, human rights abuses and contributing to the climate crisis.

Our original complaint related to allegations that the Pacific Inter-Link (PIL) Group, which is an RSPO member, had been involved in managing four palm oil concessions in Papua, Indonesia, which cover an area nearly twice the size of New York City and in which thousands of hectares of rainforest had been cleared.

Apart from EIA being asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the watchdog, which we refused on the basis that proceedings should be transparent, very little happened on the complaint between 2018-22.

This year, the RSPO finally decided to open an independent investigation, but EIA has still not seen the full results of this because the RSPO again asked us to sign an NDA.

However, the investigation has been summarised in the complaint decision, which concludes that no current connection can be found in the public domain between the Pacific Inter-Link Group and the four palm oil companies in Papua.

Pearce added: “This is hardly surprising, given that it is now five long years since we submitted the complaint – plenty of time for the PIL Group to cut any public ties it may have had with the Papuan companies.”

A key part of our complaint had focused on the fact that PIL Group directors were also directors in the Papua palm oil companies up until 2017, when rainforest was being cleared.

This is something the PIL Group has acknowledged, although it denies it had any control or influence over the Papuan companies. The summary of the RSPO’s independent investigation does not mention any conclusions the investigation reached on the common link to the directors.

“This shows that the RSPO is failing to investigate complaints in a timely manner and, it seems, the full extent of the actual concerns raised,” said Pearce. “The complaint does at least acknowledge that the actual ownership of the PIL Group and Papuan companies is hard to ascertain as they are registered in countries with low public disclosure and information on who ultimately owns the companies is not public.”

Elsewhere, there has been some positive news relating to the same Papuan companies; in September, an Indonesian court ruled that two of them – PT Megakarya Raya Jaya and PT Kartika Cipta Pratama – must stop clearing the remaining rainforests.

The Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry had originally included the Papuan companies on a list of firms set to have their permits revoked. It instead ordered them to preserve the remaining forests, although they could continue operating.

The Papuan companies appealed the Government’s decision, but in September the court upheld it.

However, the rainforests are not yet safe from being cleared – the companies are again appealing, this time against the court’s most recent decision.

The area is home to the indigenous Awyu people, who are also seeking formal recognition of their rights to the forest in order to protect it.

  •   EIA
  • 24 October 2023
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