New ‘Licence to Kill’ report takes aim at Wilmar, consumer giants

Greenpeace launches a report alleging that Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, Mondelēz International and other such companies are complicit in the loss of Sumatran tigers due to sourcing unsustainable palm oil from Singapore-based Wilmar International

Sumatran tigers
Greenpeace has released a new report revealing how deforestation due to palm oil plantations is causing the loss of tiger habitats and the animal's extinction. Image: © Greenpeace / Tom Jefferson

Tigers in Asia represent what lions are to Africa, and yet these kings of the jungle are losing the fight for their lives against big palm oil companies, said Greenpeace International in a new report released on Tuesday.

This latest 25-page document, called “A License to Kill”, named Singapore-based palm oil trader Wilmar International as the culprit behind the loss of tigers and their habitats in Indonesia. The company – the largest palm oil trader in the world – and their third-party palm oil suppliers allegedly conduct illegal land clearances and other deforestation practices that lead to tiger extinction.

By association, Colgate-Palmolive, Mondelēz International, Procter & Gamble (P&G), Reckitt Benckiser and renewable fuels firm Neste Oil, are likewise guilty of destroying Indonesia’s forests and ultimately killing tigers, Greenpeace said, for the first time naming specific brands associated with what they call tainted palm oil.

These companies, known for consumer products like Colgate toothpaste, Oreo biscuits, Tide detergent and Clearasil facial wash, allegedly purchase palm oil from Wilmar’s unsustainable sources.

In a strongly-worded reply issued on the same day to Eco-Business, Wilmar International said that they were “deeply disappointed that despite our efforts at genuine dialogue and engagement”, Greenpeace went ahead with the report.

The firm said it recently conducted a “very open face-to-face discussion with Greenpeace involving our top management… to openly and honestly address the issues raised by Greenpeace in the spirit of engagement, transparency and accountability.”

“We are currently reviewing our business strategy and practices with certain international supply chain experts,” it added.

Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesian Forest Campaign for Greenpeace International, told Eco-Business on the sidelines of a briefing to local media in Singapore that it recognised certain steps Wilmar has taken.

“But it is not enough. We need a strong commitment from Wilmar, which accounts for 36 per cent of the global market share, to stop trading and doing business with unsustainable third party suppliers,” he said.

As the world’s biggest player in the palm oil sector, Wilmar has the power to transform the industry. But until Wilmar commits to a no-deforestation policy, their trade of palm oil to big household brands such as P&G, Mondelēz and Reckitt Benckiser make consumers unwitting accomplices in the extinction of Indonesia’s 400 remaining Sumatran tigers

Bustar Maitar, Greenpeace International

RSPO members linked to deforestation, haze

Wilmar and the other firms named in the report are members of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the global industry organisation for palm oil sustainability.

Greenpeace has regularly put the spotlight on RSPO for their lax rules and actions against violators. In September, they published an investigative report detailing the deforestation caused by RSPO members and the need for firms to go beyond the RSPO to achieve a greener palm oil industry.

Maitar added: “As the world’s biggest player in the palm oil sector, Wilmar has the power to transform the industry. But until Wilmar commits to a no-deforestation policy, their trade of palm oil to big household brands such as P&G, Mondelēz and Reckitt Benckiser make consumers unwitting accomplices in the extinction of Indonesia’s 400 remaining Sumatran tigers.”

Currently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s authority on the conservation status of wildlife species, classifies Sumatran tigers as ‘critically endangered’ in its Red List of Threatened Species. And the remaining tigers currently occupy only about seven per cent of their former range, said the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).

According to “A License to Kill”, expansion of oil palm and pulpwood plantations was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the destruction of tiger habitat from 2009 to 2011.

This loss of habitat and tigers is a measure of biodiversity decline and climate instability, said Greenpeace. The fires used to clear rainforests and peatlands, which resulted in the worst haze pollution in Singapore and Malaysia in over a decade last June, contribute to record amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on Indonesian government data, 85 per cent of the country’s total emissions comes from such land-use changes for plantations and agriculture, noted the Greenpeace report. It further outlines various case studies of palm oil concessions – using mapping analysis and field investigations – and the increasing reach of plantations into forested tiger habitat territory.

Points of disagreement

Wilmar is connected to some of these palm oil concessions and their illegal land clearances, tainting palm oil markets with dubious supply, alleged Greenpeace. “Wilmar has no proper systems in place to ensure traceability in their supply chains,” it said. 

In particular, the concession area of RSPO member PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa (PT JJP) covering 12,500 hectares was previously home to tigers. While now owned by the Ganda Group, it was formerly the property of Wilmar before 2005.

In addition, the area is mapped as a peatland with over four metres of deep peat, and planting on peat over three metres deep is considered illegal, explained Greenpeace. Indonesian guidelines classify this a high conservation value (HCV) area, making it off limits according to RSPO standards as well.

Despite this, fire hotspots were found in this area last June, palm oil from PT JJP is processed by Wilmar, said the eco-activist group.

Another similar case is at the Tesso Nilo forest complex, which contains the Tesso Nilo National Park and a tiger conservation landscape (TCL). However, also in June, only 39,000 hectares of natural forest remained, about a quarter of the size of the forest complex, due to pulp and palm oil plantations. Fire hotspots were also discovered in this area during the same haze period.

In its detailed response, Wilmar sought to clarify what it says are “factual errors” in the report.

The fire incident at PT JJP was purely accidental, they said, as uncovered through their investigation with the concession group and the RSPO. This area, which they already sold in 2005, simply needs a proper water management system to address fires during dry weather season.

As for encroaching and converting tiger habitats, they said: “The map clearly shows that PT JJP is not part of the tiger habitat, contrary to the Greenpeace report … An interesting point to note is the red spot or deforestation between 2011 to 2012 recorded in the Greenpeace report just outside PT JJP boundary that clearly showed that local communities were very active doing land development outside PT JJP. These activities may have likely caused the accidental fires in June 2013.”

Wilmar also detailed several initiatives ranging from policy and awareness to check and monitoring to minimise risks of sourcing palm oil from illegal outfits at Tesso Nilo. 

In its latest report, Greenpeace also named Asia-Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL) as responsible for a sixth of all forested tiger habitat loss from 2009 to 2011, alleging that it continued to rely on rainforest clearance to feed its pulp mill.

Together with the firms like P&G and Colgate-Palmolive, which is a company recognised for its sustainability by several organisations including the 2012/2013 Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, Greenpeace also noted Amway, Arnott’s Biscuits, Godrej and Twincraft Soap as other companies lacking adequate policies to ensure their palm oil supply is not driving deforestation.

Yuyun Indradi, Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner, called on the companies clean up their act, saying: Commitments like those made by members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group, or by Nestlé, prove that an end to forest destruction is possible.” 

The Palm Oil Innovation Group, made up of a handful of environmental organizations and palm oil producers, have committed to a set of standards to reduce deforestation that go beyond the requirements of the RSPO. Consumer giant Nestle, which was previously targeted by Greenpeace for their role in deforestation, has also since adopted a strong commitment to stop using products that contribute to the destruction of rainforests.

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