Five members of the Roundtable and Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) will be asked to submit digital maps of their plantations after media reports linked them to fires in Sumatra that are driving the haze across Singapore and Malaysia.
The RSPO has given the companies — PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, Tabung Haji Plantations, Sinar Mas, Kuala Lumpur Kepong, and Sime Darby — 48 hours to submit maps of their plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan so the eco-certification body can compare them to fire hotspot data from NASA and NOAA.
“The analysis will assist in confirming the locations of the forest fires in comparison with the location of plantations owned by these member companies; which will then form the basis for the next step in the investigation,” said the RSPO in a statement, noting that its standard requires companies have policies that explicitly prohibit open burning. “The next step will focus on validating the reason behind the forest fires on whether this is due to negligent conduct or otherwise. If the investigations confirm negligent conduct – the RSPO will not hesitate to take action.”
Forest destruction in Riau Province, Indonesia on 06/23/2013. The forest fires continue to cause record-breaking air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia. © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace
However the RSPO urged caution on passing judgement on companies prior to completing its investigation.
“The RSPO recommends avoiding speculation at this stage allowing investigations to determine whether these RSPO member companies are involved.”
The group noted that the nature of peat fires — which can have an ignition source some distance away from where the hotspot appears on the surface — can complicate determining ultimate responsibility for burning.
“Peat systems cover large areas and each system may include multiple landowners and land use,” said RSPO. “Fires that begin within peatlands do not necessarily manifest in the same location as it is often indicated that they spread along great distances underground, invisible to the eye before the fire actually appears.”
But Greenpeace said many palm oil companies are ultimately responsible for creating conditions that drive fires, including large-scale forest clearing and drainage of peatlands.
“When peatland is cleared and drained of water for plantations it becomes prone to fire. Any fire, either deliberate, accidental or from small-scale clearing, can become an environmental disaster,” the group said in a statement, noting that RSPO criteria does not prohibit all plantation development on peat.
A firefighter braves the smoke caused by the forest fires in Riau Province, Indonesia on 06/23/2013. © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace
Greenpeace add that the current situation indicates that zero-burn policies aren’t enough to stop peat fires.
“Palm oil giants such as Sime Darby and Wilmar International can’t just wash their hands of responsibility for these crimes and hide behind their zero burning policies,” said Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace International, in a statement. “These types of companies created the conditions for this disaster by draining and clearing peatland.”
Maitar says that Indonesia must stop drainage and conversion of peatlands.