Palm oil and timber giant Korindo backs down in long-running case to silence civil society organizations
The plaintiff in the legal proceedings, a company belonging to the Korindo group of businesses, has agreed to end a long-running lawsuit, after a judge in Germany looked set to dismiss the case. PT Kenertec Power Systems’ lawsuit was obviously intended to silence a civil society campaign to protect rainforest, in Indonesia’s Papua province, threatened by Korindo’s extensive palm oil operations.
Korindo’s operations span the globe, ranging from timber, paper, rubber, and palm oil to renewable energy. In 2016, Mighty Earth, Rainforest Rescue and several Indonesian and Korean NGOs (non-governmental organisations) were signatories to a letter highlighting Korindo’s rampant deforestation in its huge palm oil operations in Papua, Indonesia. The letters were sent to Kenertec’s major wind tower customers in Germany.
In 2017 Mighty Earth submitted a complaint to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a global sustainable forestry certification body, regarding Korindo’s clearing of more than 30,000 hectares of Indonesian rainforests in Papua. The FSC launched an investigation.1
In 2018, Korindo instructed legal firm, LPA Singapore, to send threatening emails to at least seven organizations that signed the 2016 letter. The email stated: ‘Korindo’s policy is to engage legal actions against individuals or organisations that circulate incorrect information or make factually erroneous public statements about Korindo – with the intention or effect to damage Korindo’s business interests. Korindo is consequently in the process of initiating legal actions against Mighty Earth.’
In 2019, Korindo’s PT Kenertec Power Systems German lawyers2 filed a libel lawsuit in Germany, against the Center for International Policy (CIP), a former fiscal sponsor to Mighty Earth, and the German NGO, Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue). Kenertec’s German lawyer argued that statements, made in letters sent to wind tower customers in Germany, namely Siemens AG (Germany), Gamesa Corporation (now Siemens Gamesa) and Nordex SE (Germany), were defamatory.
In 2019 Korindo’s legal firm, threatened the FSC, which was investigating Korindo’s violations of its policies, based on Mighty Earth’s 2017 complaint. The investigation found that Korindo had destroyed more than 30,000 hectares of forest (equivalent to 42,000 football fields) in the previous five years and committed violations of Indigenous peoples’ traditional and human rights, in contravention of FSC standards.3 The investigation estimated that Korindo had ‘deprived indigenous communities in Indonesia’s Papua province of $300 million by underpaying for the timber harvested from their lands ’4
In late 2021, the FSC expelled Korindo based on its failure to cooperate with the FSC and agree on a process to address the impacts of its forestry and palm oil operations.5
Korindo agrees to settle
On 21 February 2023 Kenertec and Rainforest Rescue agreed to settle the dispute, instigated by Korindo three years ago, based on a proposal put forward by the German court. The judge declared that Kenertec could not sue CIP for statements made in the letter signed by Mighty Earth.
The SLAPP lawsuit was obviously designed to silence and intimidate the civil society groups and prevent them from repeating some statements in the letters, or be fined €250,000 in each case of violation, or face imprisonment.
What is SLAPP?
The lawsuit is an example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suit, in which big corporations or high-profile individuals, file lawsuits designed to harass and drain substantial resources from watchdog organizations, activists, journalists, trade unions, media organizations, and those who represent the public interest.
Amanda Hurowitz, Senior Director for Southeast Asia, Mighty Earth said:
“Korindo’s attempt to silence Mighty Earth and our NGO allies was completely baseless. Finally, after three years, as a German court was preparing to dismiss the case, Korindo backed down. They agreed to settle without any damages or injunctions being awarded against Mighty Earth, CIP or Rainforest Rescue and agreed to pay most of the court’s legal costs.”
“Rogue companies that destroy the planet shouldn’t be wasting the courts’ time with cases aimed at gagging civil society groups, who are rightly pushing for a global end to deforestation for palm oil, timber, soy, beef, and other commodities, to tackle climate change and nature loss.”
Professor Roger Mann of German legal firm, Damm & Mann, acting for CIP and Rainforest Rescue, said:
“After more than three years, Korindo has accepted a settlement proposal made by the court after it was inclined to dismiss the case completely. The court had made it clear, at an early stage, that the claims against CIP and for revocation against both defendants were completely without merit.”
“Regarding the claims for injunctive relief in relation to the statement about the setting of illegal fires by Korindo, the defendants had presented so many facts and offered so much evidence that the court considered hearing witnesses in Indonesia. This did not happen because, after a change of judge, the court indicated that the plaintiff was not entitled to injunctive relief because its business was wind turbines, and it wasn’t involved in the palm oil business of Korindo.”
Franky Samperante, Yayasan Pusaka (Indonesia) said:
“For decades, Korindo has gotten away with violating indigenous peoples’ land rights without exposure. Korindo should be seriously committed to respect and recover the rights of affected Papuan Indigenous communities and protect local environment.”
Andi Muttaqien, Satya Bumi (Indonesia):
Korindo has destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of rainforest in Papua. The company should be using its resources and money to restore the damage it has caused, instead of wasting them to silence activist campaigns in protecting forests and indigenous peoples.
Shin Young, Advocates for Public Interest Law, APIL (Korea)
“If Korindo is serious about improving its credibility and environmental and human rights performance, it needs to stop its legal harassment of civil society groups who have tried to stand up to its abuses, restore the forest habitat it destroyed and pay restitution to affected Papuan Indigenous communities.”
Notes to Editors:
1 FSC launches investigation into Korindo after Mighty Earth files complaint, Mighty Earth May 2017
2 Lawyers Manner & Spangenberg Partnerschaft von Rechtsanwälten mbB, An der Alster 64, 20099 Hamburg, Germany, Ref.: 10025-003 SCM
3 FSC overview of findings against Korindo, following the FSC Complaint Panel field trip to the Korindo’s palm oil plantations in December 2017 FSC
4 As reported by Mongabay and The Gecko Project based on a leaked version of the full FSC Complaint Panel report.
5 FSC announces disassociation from Korindo. FSC press release 16 October 2021