Wilmar: making you, me and your mum part of forest destruction

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Feature Story - 21 October, 2013
For most of the last year our team has been investigating and documenting gross acts of environmental destruction in Indonesia’s last remaining forests. What these investigations reveal is a story of one massive, faceless company with links to illegal, and irresponsible behavior and the rapid disappearance of critically endangered animals such as the Sumatran Tiger.

Deforestation - palm oil

© Kemal Jufri / Greenpeace

But we all feature in this story. Because this company is laundering a product – palm oil from forest destruction – onto the global market and into our homes.

Household brands that source palm oil through Singapore-based palm oil trader Wilmar International, such as the makers of Oreo biscuits, Gillette shaving products and Clearasil, are effectively making consumers - that's you and me - unwitting accomplices in the destruction of Indonesia’s forests.

Trucks of palm oil

© Kemal Jufri / Greenpeace

Our report “Licence to Kill” details these multiple cases of illegal and irresponsible behaviour. But of all the cases we’ve documented, the one that saddens me the most is the fate of a national park in Sumatra. A decade ago, a scientific survey found that Tesso Nilo was the most biodiversity rich spot on earth for plants. It is also considered a priority habitat for the protoection of the as few as 400 Sumatran tigers that remain.

But in the last decade, wholesale illegal destruction of Tesso Nilo - largely for palm oil - throws into doubt the future for any tigers that remain there

Since 2011, the forest complex has lost almost half of its remaining forest cover; in June 2013, only 39,000ha of natural forest remained – a mere quarter of the area of the forest complex.

Forest destruction

© Kemal Jufri / Greenpeace

Trading dirty palm oil to the world

Greenpeace also has evidence of trade by Wilmar from companies whose operations include illegal clearance with fires on deep peatland; wholesale rainforest destruction and illegal oil palm plantations within the Tesso Nilo National Park, harvests from which have previously been tracked to Wilmar’s own mills and which continue to feed into Indonesia’s palm oil supply chain; as well as extensive clearance of tiger habitat.

Although Wilmar has undertaken to preserve high conservation value (HCV) forests and peatland on its own concessions, these areas supply less than 4% of the palm oil it trades and refines, with the remainder being produced by third-party suppliers.

Greenpeace is throwing the challenge down to Wilmar and companies such as P&G, Reckitt Benckiser and Mondelez that buy their dirty palm oil to clean up their supply chains and break the cycle of forest destruction.

So, we have taken the message right up to Wilmar’s own plantation in Jambi.

Wilmar action

© Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Like the actions of the Arctic 30 our activity here is designed to highlight the wanton destruction of our environment by global corporations.

It’s part of our organization’s tradition of 'bearing witness' to environmental crimes and to highlight the rapid pace of forest destruction.

The forest, like the Arctic, belongs to all of us and is an integral part of our nation’s heritage. We believe no one has the right to destroy this heritage, and certainly not for short term commercial gain instead of long term sustainable development that benefits all Indonesian people.

Both the Arctic and the Indonesian forests are vital not just for their regions, but for the global environment. The Arctic acts as the “refrigerator” of the world and the forests are the “lungs”.

We do this work because, like the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, we do not want to have to explain to our grandchildren that we failed to take action to save our forests and oceans. We do not want to have to say that we stood by and did nothing while our tigers and orangutans became extinct like the dinosaurs. We do not need to destroy forests to grow palm oil, and as we’ve documented here and here better solutions exist.

As the president said at his meeting with Greenpeace International’s Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, earlier this year:

“[Please do] criticize Indonesia over the things the country has to improve, and advise us how to maintain the environment.”

Greenpeace believes that Wilmar and the household brands that buy its palm oil must recognise the true costs of irresponsible palm oil production. They need to ensure that their palm oil supply makes a genuine contribution to Indonesia’s development, rather than destroying the future for its people, its wildlife and the global climate on which we all depend.

Find out how we are challenging Wilmar International to break its links with forest destruction, and get involved.

Read our report - "Licence to Kill".

This post was written by Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesia Forests Campaign at Greenpeace International.