Greenpeace protests IOI with blockade in Rotterdam

Environmental campaigners claim IOI's palm oil is tainted with deforestation, peat destruction and human rights abuses and demand the company take a tougher stance on its errant, non-compliant third-party suppliers.

Activists from environmental group Greenpeace on Tuesday blockaded Malaysian palm oil trader IOI’s refinery in the harbour of Rotterdam, Netherlands, accusing the company of using palm oil linked to deforestation and human rights abuses.

Rotterdam’s harbour is one of the main entry points for palm oil into Europe. Greenpeace moored its ship, Esperanza, to the dock of IOI’s refinery, preventing the unloading of palm oil from incoming tankers, while eight activists — along with two Indonesian men who were adversely affected by last year’s record forest fires —protested outside the facility’s gates.

The protest marked the launch of a report titled A Deadly Trade-off, by Greenpeace, which said that IOI — estimated to be the world’s third largest palm oil company — is failing to ensure adherence to its sustainability policy among third-party suppliers. 

Activists called for IOI to: announce an immediate moratorium on forest and peatland destruction in its own operations and those of third-party suppliers; to publish a time-bound plan to vet and terminate non-compliant third-party suppliers; and publish its concession maps as well as conservation value assessments, among other demands.

They added that the only way Greenpeace would lift the blockade was for IOI to sign a statement left on its doorstep, which included public commitments to protecting forests and establishing a sustainable supply chain.

The Greenpeace blockade comes a month after the industry association that certifies environmentally and socially responsible palm oil, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), lifted its suspension of IOI’s membership.

The suspension was prompted by a complaint from non-profit consultancy Aidenvironment that IOI was clearing valuable forest and peatland in its concessions in Ketapang, West Kalimantan. 

RSPO reinstated the company’s membership after receiving IOI’s revised Sustainable Palm Oil Policy, but green groups criticised the decision as premature and risky, and claimed that the policy did not ensure adequate oversight of third-party suppliers. 

Nilus Kasmi and Adi Prabowo are residents of West Kalimantan, Indonesia who were adversely affected by last year’s haze crisis. They travelled to Rotterdam to protest against IOI and here hold up a sign that reads, “We are here to fight the smoke.” Image: Greenpeace/Marten van Dijl

Annisa Rahmawati, forest campaigner, Greenpeace Indonesia, noted that IOI’s relatively low public profile allows it to “get away with practices that could not bear public scrutiny”. 

“Together we will change that,” she said. “IOI should know that the world is watching and that there is no market for palm oil that is so destructive to Indonesia, the habitat of endangered species, our shared climate, and the people of Southeast Asia.” 

The palm oil sector was blamed as one of the key culprits for last year’s record forest and peat fires in Indonesia, which razed more than 2 million hectares of land, caused US$16 billion in economic losses, and affected the health, education, and livelihoods of millions.  

The public commitment to a sustainable supply chain, which Greenpeace says IOI must sign in order to end the blockade. Image: Greenpeace/Marten van Dijl

The protest was eventually broken up by Dutch police a few hours after it started, with police using chainsaws to cut through the logs blocking the path to IOI’s premises. 

However, in response to the blockade, IOI chief executive officer Lee Yeow Chor acknowledged Greenpeace’s report in a statement on the company’s website, and said that the group accepts its responsibilities as well as Greenpeace’s challenge to help achieve more sustainable outcomes for the industry.

But he noted that “monitoring these suppliers, imposing and verifying zero deforestation and no planting on peat policies, and using the threat of commercial sanction can only be done if there is an industry-wide approach to tackling these complex issues”.

IOI should know that the world is watching and that there is no market for palm oil that is so destructive to Indonesia, the habitat of endangered species, our shared climate and the people of South East Asia.

Annisa Rahmawati, forest campaigner, Greenpeace Indonesia

IOI is willing to host a gathering of palm oil firms to discuss industry solutions to sustainability challenges and invites Greenpeace and other environmental groups to participate, said Lee. The firm has already committed to take action on some of the demands made by the campaigners, and will be publishing a sustainability update soon, he shared.  

Lee added: “We therefore today call for all our fellow industry players to come together and reach agreement on solutions that will lead to a truly sustainable supply of one of the world’s most commonly used commodities.”

However, Greenpeace’s Rahmawati rejected IOI’s response as “weak”, and as a statement that “just passes the buck”. 

Instead of cancelling contracts with suppliers in gross violation of its policies, the company continues to dodge decisive action and waits for others to make the first move,” she said. “Another talking shop will not lead to fundamental reform in the palm oil industry. It’s time for IOI to stop stalling and to start leading by example.”

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