It says it's sustainable, but the palm oil industry is still destroying the rainforest

Posted by Richardg — 2 September 2013 at 4:26pm - Comments
An excavator creates a canal in Riau Province, Indonesia, despite heavy smoke
All rights reserved. Credit: Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace
An excavator creates a canal in Riau Province, Indonesia, despite the heavy smoke caused by the forest fires

The palm oil industry is desperate to paint itself as sustainable. Yet for the last couple of years, palm oil plantations have been the number one cause of deforestation in Indonesia.

For much of the summer, the worst forest fires in years ravaged the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The palm oil industry denied any responsibility. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) carried out a cursory check of just five of its members before declaring them all innocent.

But that simply isn't the case. As forest fires once again threaten south east Asia, our researchers have just finished cross-referencing 'hot spot' data (satellite images suggesting a fire) with the best available data from the Indonesian government and our own research. 

Our damning report, Certifying Destruction, shows that over the summer, more than a third of the fires on palm oil companies' land were burning on land controlled by RSPO members.

Companies which claim to provide sustainable palm oil were at the heart of the forest fires.

Forest fires are bad enough, but they're just the start. We also found that palm oil companies were responsible for 25% of all deforestation in Indonesia.

In Kalimantan this figure was even higher: 38% of total deforestation in Central Kalimantan, 55% in East Kalimantan, and a shocking 75% in West Kalimantan.

Once again, RSPO members were disproportionately involved. In 2009, just 14% of the rainforest in Indonesian oil palm concessions grew on land owned by RSPO members. Yet 21% of deforestation took place on RSPO members' land.

In other words, an acre of forest on land controlled by a 'sustainable' RSPO member was more likely to be destroyed than an acre of forest on land owned by an 'unsustainable' palm oil company.

This is a major problem for the tigers, orang-utans and millions of Indonesians who depend on the forest for their survival.

It's also a problem - albeit of a different sort - for supermarkets, cosmetics companies and snack food makers. Most say that by 2015 they'll only use sustainable palm oil and they depend on RSPO members to provide it. But as our research shows, the RSPO simply doesn't cut the mustard.

Household brands that don't want to be associated with deforestation have no choice but to move beyond the RSPO and demand palm oil that actually protects forests and the animals and people who depend upon them.

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