South Korea’s shameful Indonesian palm oil antics

It’s scandalous enough that a South Korean-owned company has been caught cutting down primary rainforest for timber. Worse still, the corporate vandals are also busy setting illegal fires to clear land to plant more oil palms, and they’re doing it despite being forbidden by Indonesian law.

Environmental groups are taking a very dim view of South Korea’s disgraceful behaviour, as are we, and we’re determined to help spread the word.

The Korindo Group flouts Indonesian law

Apparently the Jakarta based Korindo Group PT have been harnessing the “systematic and widespread use of fire”, sending up vast palls of polluting smoke generated from clearing forest without permission. So far the rogue company has managed to clear over 193 square miles of tropical lowland forest for palm oil plantations, mainly in remote Papua and Maluku, and at least another 75,000 hectares are at immediate risk. Korindo are blaming local people for the fires, denying any involvement. But Indonesia’s environment ministry has just sent a team to Papua to collect evidence in the shape of materials and information.

How do Korindo’s customers feel about the revelation?

Wilmar International Ltd is one of the offending company’s main clients, and they’ve told Reuters they’ve stopped buying palm from Korindo as a result of the violation. Let’s hope more follow suit before their greedy, short-sighted suppliers trash any more precious rainforest.

Will Indonesia’s palm oil moratorium fail?

Indonesia is home to the planet’s third-biggest area of tropical forest. At the same time it’s the world’s fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitters, mainly thanks to rampant deforestation. Korindo controls 619 square miles of oil palm concessions across Papua and Maluku, plus around 900,000 hectares yet to be transformed into plantations.

At the same time, around 90% of the world’s palm oil crop is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia’s President has already put a moratorium on expanding palm oil plantations in place, and the product is under huge demand. Consumer giants like Unilever and Kellog are finally getting their acts together, starting to demand ‘sustainability certification’ on the palm oil products they buy.

In 2015 chronic forest fires in Indonesia burned an area the size of Britain and lost the country a whopping $16 billion, according to the World Bank. But the burning goes on, despite guilty companies being fined as much as $735,000 and offending managers being sent to prison for as long as a decade.

Korindo’s compensation schemes are horribly disingenuous

The long term damage is serious. Yes, plantation companies like Korindo compensate Papuan communities for clearing their forests. But short term compensation is no good to local tribes people: once the money runs out, there’s no forest left for them to hunt in.

The Korindo case poses a big challenge to President Widodo. If he weakens and lets Korindo carry on regardless, his moratorium will prove utterly meaningless. If that happens, we’re looking at the single biggest deforestation project in Indonesia.

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