- Palm oil executives were caught on camera admitting to bribery in Papua New Guinea in an investigation by Global Witness.
- The company’s Malaysian CEO also described a tax evasion scheme involving palm oil exports to India.
A palm oil executive was secretly filmed describing the payment of bribes to public officials in exchange for logging permits and access to land in Papua New Guinea, in a new undercover investigation by Global Witness.
Investigators from the London-based watchdog group posed as Western businessmen over dinner with executives from East New Britain Resources Group (ENB), one of the biggest logging and palm oil firms operating in Papua New Guinea (PNG). As a hidden camera recorded his every word, the company’s public relations manager said bribes to a government minister typically ran from from 50,000 to 100,000 Papua New Guinean kina ($14,000-28,000).
Global Witness also filmed ENB’s CEO describing a tax evasion scheme, and the director of another palm oil firm, Tobar Investment, talking about paying a special police unit to beat up villagers opposed to their plantations.
“We went after them in the night, got them, belted them up, and locked them up at the station,” the Tobar director, Edward Lamur, says in the footage.
Those caught on camera generally denied doing anything illegal when formally contacted by Global Witness after the fact.
ENB’s palm oil has been used by some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, including Cargill, Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg’s, Danone, Nestlé, Reckitt and Hershey, all of which cut ties with ENB after Global Witness intervened, according to a Channel 4 report on the Global Witness investigation.
Home to the world’s third-largest stretch of rainforest, Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, with hundreds of Indigenous peoples speaking as many languages. In recent decades, huge swathes of the nation’s forests has been clear-cut and planted with oil palms, especially by Malaysian investors, fueling the global climate crisis.
The role of political corruption in driving deforestation in countries like New Guinea has become increasingly recognized, with public officials in neighboring Indonesia using shell companies as vehicles to sell permits and prominent figures in the Malaysian state of Sarawak admitting to bribery in a 2013 undercover investigation by Global Witness, among many other examples.
“Papua New Guinean communities have managed and protected their forests sustainably for countless generations,” Lela Stanley, senior investigator at Global Witness, said in a statement. “This investigation shows they are being sold out by their own government and global financial institutions in favor of a small number of highly destructive companies, with devastating human rights and environmental consequences. … It is increasingly urgent that governments legislate to prevent supply chains and global financiers bankrolling deforestation and human rights abuses.’’
Banner: Forest lining the Bairaman River in PNG. Image by Paul Hilton/Greenpeace.
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