A palm oil plantation south of Jakarta on the Indonesian island of Java. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
A palm oil plantation south of Jakarta on the Indonesian island of Java. Photo: Wikimedia Commons,

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), one of the world’s most influential sustainable forestry certification bodies, has announced that it will investigate the Indonesian oil palm operations of Korean agribusiness conglomerate Korindo in response to a formal complaint submitted by environmental group Mighty Earth.

The group submitted the complaint to the FSC on May 15, 2017, together with evidence that Mighty Earth said showed the Korindo Group had, since 2013, cleared more than 30,000 hectares (over 74,000 acres) of rainforest for palm oil production in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and North Maluku.

“The Forest Stewardship Council has formally accepted a Policy for Association (PfA) complaint submitted by Mighty Earth against Korindo Group (Korindo) for ‘Significant conversion of forests to plantations or non-forest use’,” the certification body confirmed in a statement released on June .

“This complaint falls under the scope of FSC Policy for Association (FSC-POL-01-004) and concerns Korindo Group certificate holders PT Korintiga Hutani, PT Aspex Kumbong, PT Korindo Abadi Asike and PT Korindo Ariabima Sari.”

In its Policy for the Association of Organizations with FSC (PfA), the certification body lists a number of “unacceptable forest-related activities” in which companies cannot directly or indirectly engage — essentially giving the FSC a means of protecting its reputation and “ability to deliver on its mission” should a company with certified operations be found to be responsible for unsustainable practices in some of its other operations.

Among the practices the policy prohibits is the “significant conversion of forests to plantations or non-forest use,” defined as companies converting High Conservation Value Forests or converting more than 10,000 hectares (just under 25,000 acres) of the forests under their control within the past five years.

The FSC policy goes on to state that “Failure of the 10,000 ha threshold does not lead to disassociation per se, but will lead to a case by case investigation by an independent complaints panel. In judging the case, the panel will take into account the local circumstances, the scale of the operation and plans for continued conversion.”

Last year, Mighty Earth commissioned research consultancy AidEnvironment to conduct a satellite analysis of eight Korindo oil palm concessions in Papua and North Maluku, which led to the finding that the company, through a variety of subsidiaries, was responsible for 30,000 hectares of deforestation, as well as nearly 900 fire hot spots.

Burning land to clear it for industrial agriculture operations is illegal in Indonesia, though the practice remains widespread. The fires are responsible for the “Indonesian haze” that blankets Southeast Asia every year, however, which has prompted the Jokowi administration to urge local law enforcement authorities to crack down on the practice.

Korindo has previously come under investigation over accusations that it systematically used fires to clear a heavily forested region of Papua, though the company denied the allegations.

AidEnvironment detailed its findings about Korindo’s Indonesian oil palm concessions in a report released last September, titled “Burning Paradise.” The research group found that, of the 30,000 hectares of forest destroyed by Korindo subsidiaries, some 11,700 hectares (close to 29,000 acres) were primary forests.

Mighty Earth notes in its complaint that, based on criteria established by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, primary forest is considered “High Conservation Value Forest.”

Another of the prohibited activities spelled out in the FSC’s Policy for Association is “violation of traditional and human rights in forestry operations.”

According to the AidEnvironment report, Korindo’s Indonesian subsidiaries have frequently run afoul of this stipulation, as well: “In addition to environmental damage wrought by Korindo, the company has failed to recognize and respect the rights of many indigenous communities who have depended on the forests for centuries.”

Yulian Riza, corporate communications manager for the Korindo Group, told Mongabay that “While we respect the important role that NGOs play in society, unfortunately Mighty Earth’s statements present an inaccurate portrait of our company’s policies and practices.

“Like all Korindo affiliated companies, Korindo’s palm oil operations are committed to operating in a sustainable manner. We not only comply with all Indonesian laws and regulations regarding palm oil production, but also follow industry practices on sustainable development.”

Riza added that, “As a developer and harvester of local resources and consistent with our values, Korindo realizes that we have a responsibility to operate these businesses with the highest level of integrity.”

Deborah Lapidus, campaign director for Mighty Earth, said in a statement that Korindo’s subsidiaries should lose their FSC certificates until they could prove that they had made their parent company’s sustainability policies a reality on the ground.

“Korindo has not earned the good reputation that comes along with holding FSC certification and has violated the trust of its wood products customers who believed that the certification brought assurances of sustainability,” she said.

“We call on the FSC to fully investigate Korindo’s violations of the Policy for Association, and take steps to terminate Korindo’s FSC certificates until it strictly complies with its standards.”

Four of Korindo’s forest products subsidiaries — PT Korintiga Hutani, PT Aspex Kumbong, PT Korindo Abadi Asike, and PT Korindo Ariabima Sari — could potentially lose FSC certification as a result of the investigation, according to Mighty Earth.

“This could put some of Korindo’s timber trade in jeopardy from suspension by buyers seeking FSC-certified products,” the group said in a statement.

A palm oil plantation south of Jakarta on the Indonesian island of Java. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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