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Palm Oil Industry Sustainable Policies Fail Global Zero-deforestation Commitments
by Tomas DiFiore
Monday Mar 2nd, 2015 12:10 PM
Uganda is one of the countries of the new frontier of palm oil destruction in Africa: as in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Liberia, South-East Asian palm oil companies are leasing or buying land to produce palm oil, thereby causing the same destructive effects on communities and the environment as have been seen in Indonesia and Malaysia. PepsiCo and Proctor and Gamble both have sustainable policies that take full effect in 2020. Wilmar has announced that as of January 2016 it would no longer buy oil from plantations built on newly cleared peat and forest land... but the move would not apply retroactively to land cleared before 2016.
Palm Oil Industry Sustainable Policies Fail Global Commitments To Communities Most Affected

First - BOYCOTTS WORK! Palm Industry, Exposes Hurt Feelings January, 2015

From the Malaysian Palm Industry: "Black campaigns against the palm oil industry have manifested into trade barriers and made it very challenging for traders to secure higher prices in the global market.”

“Palm oil exporters are denied equal opportunities to trade, while traders face oppression and discrimination in market access. Oil palm planting and palm oil exports provide developing nations a path out of poverty. Defamatory campaigns of “No Palm Oil” or “Palm Oil Free” on food labels in Europe are hurting oil palm planters' livelihoods and denying palm oil exporters equal opportunities to trade.” Following the deadline of 13th December 2014, oil palm planters had expected the governments of France and Belgium to stop misleading and defamatory labels. "The oil palm is Malaysia’s economic security crop, which support some two million jobs and livelihoods along the sprawling value chain.” 491,000 jobs in December 2012 according to:

"The least the oil palm planters of developing nations can expect from the French and Belgian governments is to stop these misleading front-of-pack labels and responsibly enforce integrity of information to consumers and businesses."

Notice the use of the term 'Developing Nations'
Poverty Is More Than An Income:

The Malaysia Human Development Report 2013 commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says poverty is better measured against what households earn in general, rather than by a fixed minimum level. The report measures relative poverty, which sets the threshold at half the national median income, and finds the number of Malaysians in this category has been rising since 2007, with one in five households now considered relatively poor.

Malaysia boasts a a $20 billion dollar a year palm oil industry.

The oil and natural gas rich State of Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) is considered Malaysia 'poorest' population area.

Malaysia is a country that is being developed by national and foreign corporations. Malaysia is the SE Asia hub for oil and gas. It's offshore resources and leased tracts and rig platforms, serve Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia (Borneo). Much of Malaysia's oil and gas industry is located offshore of Sarawak and Sabah (Borneo) also known as East Malaysia.

Malaysia is not a 'developing nation'. It's poor people, the landscape, it's Indigenous peoples, have been exploited and the land stolen over several decades, with marked increase of conflict over land grabs in the last 15 years for palm plantations.

Don't believe the November 2014 private consulting firm (Catapult) 'Forest Heroes' campaign slogan that “75 percent of the world's palm oil is deforestation free.”

Struggling For Clarity

On January 20, 2015, Rain Forest Action Network published “Pepsi-Co Needs A Time Out” a call for a continued boycott against Pepsi-Co. Pepsi-Co was one of the earliest (along with Cargill) to feel the brunt of boycotts and consumer concerns. Palm oil prices plummeted as did global market consumption. Pepsi-Co and Cargill were the first to negotiate a futuristic scenario for a 'sustainable palm oil supply chain' and gain global recognition for 'certification'. It's been how many years?

What is 'Sustainable'?
The last rainforest on Peninsular Malaysia was cut in 2013.

“Deforestation-Free And Zero-Deforestation, Palm Oil's Carbon Footprint”
Published Friday Feb 20th, 2015

The 'Forest Heroes' campaign by the private consulting firm Catapult, which brought us the Dunking Donuts' campaign, later joined the industry certification front group RSPO in proclaiming that three quarters of the wold's palm oil is now deforestation free. Their campaign namesake, should not be confused with original UN program 'Forest Heroes', which began in “The Year Of The Forest” 2011.

It began as a program during the UN International Year of The Forests in 2011. The first two 'Forest Heroes' were two girls scouts. “Since age 11, Madison and Rhiannon have been raising awareness on endangered orangutans and their rapidly diminishing rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia. Now in their teens, the girls have expanded their work, launching multiple campaigns to ensure Girl Scout Cookies are made from sustainable resources. Their work prompted Girl Scouts USA to commit to improving sustainability of their cookies and boosted efforts to reduce deforestation for palm oil.” Their full story, an amazing one at that, can be found here:

Read a recent challenging expose of RSPO Principles and Criteria, and human right abuses, Indigenous loss of land, non-sustainability on the environment, and unresolved conflicts:

“Sustainable Palm Oil Certification: Principles And Criteria In Crisis”
Monday Feb 23rd, 2015

On January 27, 2015 Friends Of The Earth published a new video:
“Palm Oil Companies Alleged To Be Violating Their Commitments”:

“The new video from WALHI (Friends of the Earth-Indonesia) documents the views of villagers in Bengkulu Province, on the west coast of Sumatra, who are resisting the expansion of palm oil on their lands. According to WALHI, the local company, PT Sandhabi Indah Lestari, which has taken over the communities’ lands without their consent, is a supplier of the palm oil trading giant, Wilmar. In December 2013, Wilmar issued a public policy committing itself ensuring there was ‘Zero Deforestation’ and ‘Zero Exploitation’ in its entire supply chain.”


Recently, another challenge to the 'sustainability gap' appeared February 13, 2015 in The Guardian:

“On the Wilmar International wholly owned, directly managed palm plantations, meeting its pledge should be straightforward. The real challenge arises with the franchised or independent smallholder farmers from whom Wilmar buys around one third of its raw supply.”

“Often farming in remote areas and with little regulatory oversight, smallholders are far more likely to engage in “slash-and-burn” forest clearance, excessive chemical use and other environmentally unsustainable agricultural practices. “Smallholders lack capacity [and] they are people who often don’t have choice,” says Simon Siburat, Wilmar’s group sustainability controller. “And they don’t really see the need to be certified,” he says.”

“It’s not just a problem for Wilmar. An estimated two-fifths of the world’s palm oil derives from plantations of fewer than 50 hectares, the general marker for a smallholding. Without the engagement of these farmers, palm oil will never be able to shake off its reputation as environmentally destructive.”

So the question is...
“What examples are there of independent corporate standards in the palm oil sector?
There are examples of companies, such as Nestlé and Danone, doing what is considered to be ‘going above and beyond’ international standards by committing to zero-deforestation policies. A zero-deforestation policy requires all of a company’s suppliers to produce commodities such as timber, soy, and palm oil in a way that reduces their impact on natural forests. A policy such as this can go a long way towards ensuring that producers improve their practices.”

“Between 2008 and 2011 Greenpeace ran a campaign to persuade palm oil companies, such as Indonesian palm plantation group Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), to review their policies on deforestation; at the same time bringing this to the attention of their customers and the general public. In particular, this campaign highlighted Nestlé UK’s procurement of GAR palm oil. As a result Nestlé UK ceased procurement from GAR.

However, rather than stopping there, Nestlé UK instead worked closely with GAR, Greenpeace and the Forest Trust to implement best practice on GAR’s plantations and, in doing so, to ‘green’ Nestlé UK’s supply chain. This resulted in the eventual reinstatement of GAR as a supplier for Nestlé UK. This process demonstrated how leveraging the links between consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and their suppliers, can really effect change in the palm oil industry, increasing sustainability practices and helping to conserve biodiversity.”

“Another outcome of this campaign was that, in 2012, GAR - the world’s second largest palm oil company with 457,000 hectares - became the first company to identify peatlands and high carbon stock forests in its oil palm concessions. This has been integrated within the company’s forest conservation policy, which prohibits conversion of forest with more than 35 tonnes of carbon per hectare.”

Fast Forward To January 2015

In May 2014, PepsiCo joined a string of consumer packaged goods (CPG) giants, including Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Kellogg and Procter & Gambl, in committing to “zero deforestation” palm oil sourcing in its company-owned and -operated activities and supply chain by 2020. While NGOs including Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) acknowledged it was a good first step, they found the policy underwhelming, as it lacked “a strong commitment to full traceability, a demand for similar commitments from its suppliers and most importantly, an implementation plan,” UCS’ Calen May Tobin said at the time.

“Rainforest Action Network (RAN) publicly shared a joint communication with UCS, Greenpeace, SumOfUs and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) that was delivered privately to PepsiCo in July. The letter outlines in specific detail ways in which PepsiCo's current palm oil commitments fall short of the new benchmark set by its peers for responsible palm oil production and procurement. RAN says the issues raised at that time remain unaddressed by PepsiCo.”

“PepsiCo has committed to achieving zero deforestation in its company-owned and -operated activities and supply chain by 2020. Specifically, it says it will work to ensure that by 2016, all 450,000 tons of palm oil it sources each year will come only from suppliers certified by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), do not develop on high carbon stock or high conservation value forests, or convert peatland into plantations. PepsiCo states further that in compliance with our Forestry Stewardship Policy, which includes adherence to the following principles:
-Compliance with applicable legal requirements of each country in which we operate and from which we source.
-No further development on High Carbon Stock (HCS) Forests, High Conservation Value (HCV) Forests.
-No new conversion of Peatlands.

…. by 2020.

But as we know, Indonesia has instituted the 'plasma obligation' as a social program... a mandatory expansion of current palm oil plantations by 20 percent outside the current boundaries of the plantation for a 'smallholders option'. This has a great PR face, but is quite controversial.

Forest Carbon Conservation and Human Rights vs Independent Corporate Standards

A sad day of videos (some published February 2015). This linked page begins a long list of videos on Palm Oil impacts to the environment, the flora and fauna. The scale of destruction is frightening. The scale of injury and death to wild creatures is deplorable.

Palm Oil Impacts To Orangutans

Malaysia has also rejected any recommendations by UN member countries for progress in human rights for Malay indigenous cultures. Malaysia rejected the UN appeal for an official visit in 2014 (that's 5 years in a row).

A 2013 survey published in Science magazine, developed in partnership with Google and its satellite mapping facility, “showed that between 2002 and 2012 Malaysia had the highest deforestation rate in the world, largely because of land being cleared for oil palm plantations. Much of the activity in East Malaysia, of which Sarawak is part, has taken place in peat swamp forests, which accentuates the environmental concerns. Such forest land needs to be drained in order to plant oil palms.”

“Newsweek, in a 2012 green ranking of of the world's 500 largest publicly traded companies; and environmental impacts - ranked Singapore-based Wilmar International, the world's largest palm oil and refining and processing company, at last place, behind Monsanto and mining company Coal India.”

“The palm oil industry has moved into damage-control mode. In late February Wilmar announced that as of January 2016 it would no longer buy oil from plantations built on newly cleared peat and forest land. Explaining the move, a Wilmar spokesperson told Institutional Investor that big corporations have to lead in the drive towards sustainability. The spokesperson emphasized that the move would not apply retroactively to land cleared before 2016 and said the company has already begun to engage suppliers and advised them not to conduct any new peat land clearance.”

“If we are not allowed to plant on peat and forest land, then there will be no oil palm planted in Sarawak, Tan Sri Dr James Masing, land development minister in the state of Sarawak.”

Ah... the details.

While in other news today:

12,000 foreign workers needed for this years' expanded fresh fruit bunch harvest in Sarawak.

Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA) reiterated the industry’s need for more workers to harvest oil palm fruits at the fields. SOPPOA estimated that millions of tonnes of fruit bunches are wasted in the fields as planters lack manpower to harvest them.

SOPPOA has estimates for harvest of 17.5 million tonnes of oil palm fruit bunches or 3.5 million tonnes of crude palm oil this year. With a 15 per cent wastage or loss of 500,000 tonnes of crude palm oil, that works out to 2.5 million tonnes of fruit bunches left rotting across Sarawak's oil palm fields.

"There is little alternative but to seek hiring of foreign workers." SOPPOA expressed gratitude for Sarawak government’s plan to bring in 12,000 Bangladeshi workers for the state’s plantation sector. SOPPOA goes on to state that employment in the oil and gas sector has taken all the eligible local workers from Sarawak to Sabah.

Detergent's Main Ingredient

Since the 1990s, MES-based laundry detergent started to gain popularity as it is readily biodegradable, renewable, agreeable to vegetarians and most importantly, it cleans well, even in cold water. In Malaysia, KLK Oleochemicals Group’s unit, KL-Kepong Oleomas, operates a 50,000-tonne per year MES plant. “We’re carrying out some upgrading works and doubling the capacity to 100,000 tonnes,” KLK Oleochemicals managing director A.K. Yeow has stated.

As the world’s top oleochemicals producer, Malaysia exports around 2.2 million tonnes every year. Malaysia’s lead is partly driven by its community of engineers and chemists having the ability to process palm oil and palm kernel oil into more than 100 types of downstream products. Malaysians have become pioneers and key investors in China’s oleochemical industry.

Among the earliest to set foot there are Wilmar International Ltd, in which Robert Kuok’s Kuok Group is a substantial shareholder. The other pioneer is Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd’s (KLK) unit KLK-Taiko Palm Oleo Co Ltd. Wilmar’s pioneering investments have given it a headstart over its competitors. Today, it is the biggest player in China’s oleochemical industry with an estimated annual capacity of 800,000 tonnes.

China has also completed it's own oleochemical plant now with a production capacity of 40,000 tonnes a year. The growth of the palm oil oleochemical industry is rapidly changing the landscape of investment.

Well, Malaysia is out of land to develop, so it's off to Africa! Where plantations threaten the established small farmers and local sustenance.

The UN, Banks, and Palm Giants Feast On Uganda (February 20, 2015)

Four years ago, an oil palm plantation partly operated by the oil palm giant Wilmar International began on Bugula, a highly biodiverse island on Lake Victoria. Then home to about one hundred small-scale farmers, the project was sold to them with extravagant promises of employment and development.

Yet today, 3,600 hectares of pristine forest have been destroyed, replaced with a vast swathe of oil palm, and many farmers and their families find themselves destitute with little compensation, if any, awarded to them for the loss of their land.

Finding themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances, three of them are today launching their legal action on behalf of the rest of the community against the oil palm company, Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL), demanding the restitution of their land and compensation for lost crops and income.

OPUL is 90% owned by Bidco Uganda, itself a joint venture between the oil palm giant Wilmar International, Josovina Commodities and Bidco Oil Refineries, a Kenya-based company. Wilmar International holds at least 39% of the shares in OPUL and is providing technical expertise for the project.

Nothing has really changed - January 29, 2015

“Uganda is one of the countries of the new frontier of palm oil destruction in Africa: as in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Liberia, South-East Asian palm oil companies are leasing or buying land to produce palm oil, thereby causing the same destructive effects on communities and the environment as have been seen in Indonesia and Malaysia.”

“In Uganda, the oil palm giant Wilmar International is developing palm oil plantations in the highly biodiverse Kalangala islands and in Buvuma, another island in Lake Victoria. The project is a partnership between Wilmar, the Ugandan government, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Kenyan oilseeds company Bidco. The agreement commits to planting 40,000 hectares of palm oil in total.”

“Affected people we spoke to in Kalangala and Buvuma told us stories of how they lost their land to the project and received inadequate compensation, if any, and are now therefore unable to provide an alternative livelihood.”

"Friends of the Earth Europe and Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland have supported the communities since 2012 by bringing their case to Wilmar's European and US financiers, to the members of national and European parliaments, to Wilmar itself and to the national and European media.”

Since then, Wilmar has adopted a policy of "No peat, No Exploitation and No Deforestation". But all of their financiers already had a sustainability policy.

“What we (FOE) observed during our time in Uganda, and the reports that we have heard out of Uganda over the last few years, clearly shows how voluntary standards are not enough: we cannot expect companies and financiers to regulate themselves. We need binding standards for financiers in Europe, as well as to reduce the growing global demand for palm oil in general.”

If you want to support John Muyiisa's struggle in his search for legal redress, please help here:

In the morning, look in the mirror, and make the change. Check your shopping list. Boycott SE Asian Palm Oil certified solely by the (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil (RSPO), or industry.

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Tomas DiFiore
§The significance of Singapore money and palm oil.
by Tomas DiFiore Monday Mar 2nd, 2015 12:18 PM
IMAGE: The significance of Singapore money and palm oil. Wilmar International has it's headquarters in Singapore. Singapore banks fund palm plantation expansion.
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