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Indonesian palm oil giant clearing peat forest despite its RSPO membership, alleges Greenpeace

A major Indonesian palm oil producer continues to clear rainforests in Sumatra despite being a prominent member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), casting doubts on the body’s effectiveness in limiting deforestation, alleges a new report from Greenpeace.

The report, titled A Dirty Business, is based on a field investigation itno the Darmex Agro group’s operations in Riau province. Greenpeace says the palm oil producer, better known as Duta Palma, has been clearing “hundreds of hectares of largely forested peatland” outside of its registered concession and within an area off-limits to conversion under Indonesia’s forestry moratorium signed in 2011. The activist group says the area is habitat for critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

Greenpeace argues that the Duta Palma situation “reveals the risk faced by respected global brands that the palm oil they purchase through international traders may come in part from illegal and destructive operations.”

Palma Satu, Indragiri Hulu, Riau, September 2011: Haze from fire and burnt tree stumps within recently cleared peatland forest; 0°34’54”S
102°37’55.2”E ©Ifansasti/Greenpeace

“As part of dramatic reform of the supply chain, palm oil traders need to scrutinize their third-party suppliers to eliminate this risk,” states the report. “Most critically,
it shows the urgent need for the Indonesian government
and the RSPO to tighten standards and enforcement.
Failure to take action against such operations not only
undermines the rule of law, but also jeopardizes the future
of critically endangered wildlife species, and Indonesia’s
international commitment to dramatically reduce its GHG
emissions, which are primarily linked to deforestation.”

PT Palma Satu, Indragiri Hulu, Riau, November 2008: A peatland drainage canal separates recent deforestation from the forested-remains of tiger habitat. ©Novis/Greenpeace

Greenpeace has been investigating Duta Palma since 2007 and its Indonesian branch has done a series of colorful campaigns against the company over that period for alleged abuses. Duta Palma has faced several government investigations during that time, the results of which have never been made public, according to Greenpeace.

Yet Duta Palma continues to be a RSPO member in good standing, a fact that Greenpeace says raises questions about the effectiveness of RSPO certification. The activist group notes that the RSPO’s new principles and criteria — facing a vote at a special meeting Thursday in Kuala Lumpur — don’t include provisions that would bar deforestation or conversion of peatlands for oil palm plantations.

“While the RSPO has the opportunity to set a strong standard to transform the industry and break the link between palm oil and deforestation, Greenpeace International concludes that the revisions in the charter will fail to prohibit further clearance of carbon-rich forests and peatland,” the group said in a statement.

Duta Palma did not respond for requests for comment.

A Dirty Business

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