Korean palm oil firm accused of illegal forest burning in Indonesia

Some of the world’s biggest buyers have stopped trading with Korindo after the emergence of footage claiming to show illegal burning in Papua province
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 1 Sep 16;

A Korean palm oil company has been dropped by buyers after footage emerged that allegedly shows the illegal burning of vast tracts of tropical forest on lands it holds concessions for in Indonesia.

Some of the world’s biggest palm oil trading producers including Wilmar, Musim Mas and IOI have stopped using palm oil sourced from Korindo, much of which is destined to meet European demand.

Korindo’s alleged deforestation of pristine woodland in Papua province also threatens to destroy the last sanctuary of several birds of paradise and the tree kangaroo, according to a report by a new environmental alliance called Mighty.

The group has collected evidence from drones, remote sensors, GPS satellites, and videographers and photographers on the ground, which it says proves that Korindo has flouted Indonesia’s no-burning laws and violated responsible sourcing requirements.

Bustar Maitar, Mighty’s campaign director in Papua, told the Guardian: “Korindo is clear-cutting forests and then starting fires to clear the land of remaining biomass. That is forbidden by Indonesia’s regulations but during last year’s forest fires, most of the blazes in the Papua region happened in Korindo’s concessions.”

“There are a lot of animal species and flora here that haven’t even been discovered yet,” Maitar added. “If these kinds of land clearing activities continue, they may never be.”

But Koh Gyeong Min, Korindo’s head of sustainability, denied that the firm had been responsible for any illegal forest burning. “It is not true actually,” he said. “We followed all of the Indonesian regulations and acquired all the proper licences from the government for all areas of operation within our group.”

“I also would like to ask: do the local NGOs or residents have any evidence about our company that they have brought to the Indonesian government or the local courts? As far as I know there have been no cases of that.”

The allegations come as south-east Asia’s 2016 burning season is just beginning. On 30 August, the Indonesian government warned that haze from fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan could reach Malaysia and Singapore in the days ahead.

More than 3,000 hotspots have been detected in the Indonesian archipelago in the last month, with maps released by Greenpeace of Riau and West Kalimantan showing that many are occurring on industrial plantation concessions in the same areas that burned last year.

Yuyun Indradi, Greenpeace Indonesia’s forest campaigner said: “Companies that refuse to take steps to prevent fires have not just ash, but blood on their hands.”

Wildfires in Indonesia’s tropical forests last year are thought likely to have contributed to the premature deaths of more than 100,000 people, and to have emitted more CO2 than the whole of the UK that year.

Korindo is active in Indonesia’s north Malaku region as well as Papua, holding around 620 square miles of forest concessions in total. The company, whose promotional video calls on viewers to “make the Earth green”, has already cleared around 193 square miles of forest.

Maitar said that Korindo had not responded to letters sent by the new alliance, and that the new report was aimed at putting pressure on the Indonesian government.

Several major buyers of Korindo’s palm oil acted to cut the firm out of their supply chains after hearing of the allegations.

A spokeswoman for Musim Mas told the Guardian that it wanted to see Korindo engage with civil society groups and adopt a “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” (NDPE) policy. “During this period we will continue to stop buying the palm oil temporarily and monitor Korindo’s progress,” she said.

NDPEs have become a palm oil industry standard in south-east Asia but the Mighty campaign argues that they are not working. Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty’s US campaign director, said that Korindo had been able to deforest 113 square miles of land since 2013, despite clearly visible satellite evidence of 894 hotspots in that period.

“This investigation shows the true face of the palm oil industry in Indonesia even after No Deforestation policies,” Hurowitz said. “The current, mostly confidential company-by-company system is inadequate. We urgently need a transparent, systematic approach, as well as further action by government and prosecutors.”

One of Malaysia’s largest palm oil companies, IOI – which was itself suspended from a sustainability scheme for not doing enough to prevent deforestation - said that its third party suppliers had also “decided to temporarily stop sourcing from Korindo” after hearing the allegations.

The palm oil giant Wilmar told the Guardian that it too had contacted Korindo after a heads up about the new evidence. “Due to a lack of progress from the supplier, and in view of the serious allegations, Wilmar has ceased procuring from Korindo with effect from June 2016,” a spokeswoman said.

None of the companies would reveal how much money they spent on ensuring that third-party palm oil suppliers did not cause environmental damage.

Gyeong Min said that after a demand from Wilmar earlier this year, Korindo began a “high-carbon stock assessment” which would be published later this month. “We also announced a temporary moratorium for our remaining plantation area,” he said.

Last month, a Korindo subsidiary called PT Tunas Sawa Erma declared a three-month suspension of new forest clearings across 25,000 hectares of territory, while it developed a NDPE policy.

But Mighty says that the moratorium did not extend to all Korindo operations. “A couple of months ago we visited their concessions and the land clearing was still happening,” Maitar said. “In our experience with other companies, all activities involving the cutting down of forests should be stopped, while they are doing these sorts of assessments.”

S. Korean company accused of deforestation in Papua
Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 2 Sep 16;

Following activity in Sumatra and Kalimantan, palm oil companies have begun expansion in Papua, which houses Indonesia’s only remaining virgin forests as other parts of the country have largely been converted to plantations.

One such company is Korindo Group, a Korean-Indonesian conglomerate and Papua’s major palm oil company. In 2013, Korindo began its aggressive clearing of tropical lowland forests for oil palm plantations in Papua.

The massive deforestation and illegal burning of pristine rainforests by Korindo was uncovered in a recent investigative report by global environmental organization Mighty, Indonesian humanitarian organizations SKP-KAMe Merauke and PUSAKA, Transport & Environment, Rainforest Foundation Norway and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM).

In total, Korindo has cleared more than 50,000 hectares of tropical lowland forest in Papua and North Maluku, an area approximately the size of Seoul. Since 2013 alone, it has cleared 30,000 ha of forest in the two provinces, 12,000 ha of which were primary forests.

“The extent of Korindo’s clearing of Indonesia’s pristine rainforest is downright tragic,” said Bustar Maitar, Southeast Asia director for Mighty.

Korindo denied the allegations of slash-and-burn practices.

“Our hypothesis is that indigenous people who have access to our concessions have caused the fires to hunt wild animals living in the forests,” the company said in an official statement.

According to the report, slash-and-burn practices were apparent as there were no less than 894 hotspots recorded within the Korindo subsidiary company’s concession boundaries from 2013 to 2015.

Korindo was clearing forest and land in two concession areas in 2013, in three concessions in 2014 and in four concessions in 2015, the report said.

“What’s shocking is Korindo’s systematic use of fires to clear land for its plantations. Not only is this illegal, but these fires were also a major contributor to last year’s haze crisis,” Bustar said.

According to the report, Korindo had been able to get away with systematic clearing and burning for oil palm plantations with almost no accountability because Papua is a remote province with restricted access for media and civil society.

Furthermore, local indigenous groups have little access to media for reporting illegal practices.

Last year, the seventeenth regional military command (Kodam XVII) Cenderawasih received two units of excavators to help the military open up agricultural lands in Merauke regency, Papua, from Korindo, according to media reports.

Furthermore, the government had been focusing its effort on preventing and extinguishing forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, thus largely neglecting Papua, despite the fact that it hosts the largest area of previously untouched primary tropical rainforests in Indonesia.

“We will check everything back because last year, we focused on fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, especially in peat areas,” the Environment and Forestry Ministry law enforcement director-general, Rasio Ridho Sani, said when asked if the government was aware of Korindo’s alleged crimes.

Currently, 75,000 ha of untouched forest remain in Korindo’s palm oil concessions that are at imminent risk of destruction.

Korindo Responsible for Human Rights Violations, Deforestation, Haze Explosive Environmental Report Finds
Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 2 Sep 16;

Jakarta. While wildfires rage across Kalimantan and Sumatra, Papua has fallen prey to the illegal slash-and-burn practices which devastated the two western islands, environmental watchdog Mighty has revealed in a new report.

Mighty's investigative report "Burning Paradise," which includes satellite images, hotspot data, photos and videos, accuses Korean-controlled conglomerate Korindo of burning native forests and of human rights violations in Papua and North Maluku.

Mighty was founded by Washington-based think tank the Center for International Policy and joined hands with several established organizations — strategic communications company Waxman Strategies, research organization Aidenvironment, local humanitarian organizations SKP-KAMe Merauke and Pusaka and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements — to produce the report.

"The continuous increase in global demand for palm oil has become an opportunity for many companies in Indonesia to widen their concessions, especially for palm oil, sacrificing the very little of forests we have left," Mighty Southeast Asia director Bustar Maitar said on Thursday (01/09).

Mighty's team ventured into Korindo's remote palm oil plantations in Papua to document the company's actions with the report including the live footage.

The conglomerate, controlled by the Korean-based Seung family, was established in Jakarta in 1969 with the headquarters remaining in the city since. The group's business includes wood chip production, operating palm plantations to financing and real estate.

The report found that over 50,000 hectares of tropical lowland forests – comparable to the size of Seoul – have been devastated by the group. Satellite imaging indicate Korindo was responsible for illegal forest fires, with 164 hotspots observed, at Korindo's Donghin Prabhawa palm oil plantation in Merauke, in 2015.

The unique and endangered wildlife endemic to Papua, such as the birds of paradise and tree kangaroos, are threatened by the constant habitat degradation.


Conflict among local tribes have been triggered by the loss of access to the forest, particularly with regards to land compensation. Rights abuses highlighted in the report found Korindo failed to obtain consent from local communities to build concessions upon their land.

Pastor Anselmus Amo, a religious leader and director of SKP KAMe Merauke, said many of the licenses obtained by palm companies on Papua are signed by people who do not represent local communities. In other cases, consent is forced through military pressure.

"Most of the times they come with the military to scare the locals. Their presence is not even necessary, the locals don't mean to do any harm, so why are they there?" the pastor told the Jakarta Globe during the press briefing in Jakarta on Thursday.

Corporate social responsibility programs are run by Korindo, with schools, clinics and housing built in some areas. Many communities affected y the concessions miss out.

"Business is business, but it still needs to follow the principles of human rights. They cannot be covered up by the corporate social programs. It's a social responsibility, not a blanket for human rights violations," Amo said.

Papuans traditionally rely on sustenance hunting and so shy away from the agrarian customs forced by palm companies.

"Papuans should be the kings on their own land. If they become laborers, they become slaves of theses corporations," he said.

Pusaka, a local NGO protecting the rights of Indigenous communities in Merauke, said the loss of forests is the same as losing the livelihood of the Papuan people.

"Many of the forests have been cleared out for palm oil concessions, the people of the Awiwi tribe have no source of food left, which means they are heading towards extinction," Pusaka director Y.L. Franky said.

Franky suggests that for companies to be credible they must develop a mechanism for conflict resolution to prevent future cases of violence similar to those reported across Korindo concessions.

"Last year we made a report on the military violence in the area. This is not the right way of conduct for the companies if they seek sustainable investments there," Franky said. Call for sanctions Bustar, an activist at Mighty, said the revelations in the report of Korindo's violations is a "cry for help" for the future of the country's forests.

“We just don’t want this to continue and let Papua share the same fate as the forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra,” Bustar, a former Greenpeace forest campaigner, said.

He urged ministries and relevant government authorities to sanction those who are proven to still practice slash-and-burn tactics in forest management, and stressed the importance of "free, prior and informed consent," as it is important for communities to be involved in the understanding and agreeing with new developments to be built on their land.

“We also ask customers of Korindo to stop, until they realize that they have to transform their unsustainable practices,” Bustiar said.

Korindo's Responses In a written response published on Wednesday, Korindo denied the accusations and claimed to have "zero burning" policies in all palm plantations.

According to Korindo's statement, the hotspot images in Mighty's report were satellite images from the Aqua and Terra satellites taken after September 2015, when Indonesia suffered a long drought which caused wildfires across the country, including concession areas.

All palm plantations are registered and have secured necessary licensing from the government, the response said, adding that it has provided adequate compensation to local communities.

"The company also develops a plasma plantation [smaller plots of palm within plantations] of which 20 percent is for the local communities as a direct contribution to boost their revenues," the statement said.

Korindo, known to employ about 20,000 employees all over Indonesia, also denied its operations have increased the haze from forest fires, claiming it has burnt less than 0.1 percent of the total amount of forests burnt in Indonesia in 2015.