The Indonesian environment ministry said they were sending a team to look into Korindo’s operations in Papua.
A Korindo spokesperson denied that the company had burned land intentionally, suggesting that the fires on its land were the government’s fault, not the company’s.
Environmental campaigners are touring Korea this week to raise awareness about Korindo’s activities in Papua.
The Indonesian government is investigating a Korean palm oil giant accused of burning land in the archipelagic country’s easternmost province of Papua.
In response to an NGO report alleging that the company, Korindo, has made systematic use of fire to clear land in the heavily forested region, Indonesia’s environment ministry has sent a team to Papua to “to collect material and information,” the ministry’s law enforcement director Muhammad Yunus told Reuters.
The widespread use of fire by oil palm and pulpwood planters precipitates Indonesia’s annual haze crisis which each year sends smoke billowing across Southeast Asia. The result last year was a national health emergency and a disastrous spike in greenhouse gas emissions.
Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has urged local authorities to enforce the law against anyone caught burning, which is illegal for all except the smallest farmers. In late August Indonesia’s police chief said police had already arrested over 450 people, more than twice the number apprehended in connection with last year’s fires. The Jokowi administration has also brought civil and criminal cases against a number of companies accused of causing fires.
The NGO report, titled “Burning Paradise” and by environmental group Mighty and partners, used satellite images and hotspot data, as well as on-the-ground research, to document Korindo’s practices in its remote oil palm plantations in Papua.
The conglomerate has accepted that fires occurred on its land but denied the allegations of intentional burning. A company spokesman named Luwi implied that the fires were the fault of the government, not Korindo.
Luwi further suggested that Korindo’s clear-cutting the Papuan jungle might not constitute “deforestation” because the company’s land had been zoned for “other uses” — a designation known as APL — rather than as “forest area.”
“I don’t know if we have the same understanding of deforestation” as the NGOs, he told journalists. “APL is not ‘forest area,’ so if you open land in APL, is that deforestation? This should be discussed.”
Many of Indonesia’s forests lie outside the officially designated forest zone, just as many of its towns and cities, including the capital of Central Kalimantan province, lie inside it. According to “Burning Paradise,” Korindo is responsible for 30,000 hectares of deforestation and an estimated 894 fire hotspots since 2013.
Last week on the day before the report’s publication, Korindo met with the chairperson of one of Indonesia’s two parliamentary chambers and with the heads of the associations representing Indonesian palm oil developers and logging concessionaires to discuss global “anti-palm-oil” campaigns, news portal Detik reported.
Mighty campaign directors Bustar Maitar and Deborah Lapidus are this week touring universities, governments and media in South Korea to discuss Korindo’s actions.