Tagged ‘Palm Oil‘
WATCH: Planet of the Humans [Full Film]

WATCH: Planet of the Humans [Full Film]

April 22, 2020


WKOG caveat: Industrial civilization is destroying all life on Earth. Human destruction of biodiversity is not created equally: “Yet tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world, and 80% of our planet’s biodiversity is found in tribal territories.” [Further reading: The best conservationists made our environment and can save it, Stephen Corry] Human population is often identified as a problem because it strains the world’s resources and pollutes. [1] The first and most efficient way to address over consumption is to reduce consumption in the North is to a) redistribute the resources, (all arable land, etc.) to the Global South, to sustain those in the Global South, and b) phase out the production of all superfluous consumer products that harm life and biodiversity. [Further reading: Too Many Africans?, July 11, 2019] An analysis of population growth that accounts for the vast differences in consumption across class and region is critical in examining the worldwide environmental crisis.


Jeff Gibbs, Writer, Producer, Director:  “At long last our film “Planet of the Humans” is now released to the world! It’s one of the happiest days of my life, and a day I fervently hope has a role in initiating some real change in the world. “Planet of the Humans”  is now available free of charge to everyone on planet Earth courtesy of our partnership with Michael Moore. Please help us spread the word by sharing, blogging, posting, tweeting, emailing, or pony expressing your enthusiasm and urgency about why people must see this movie.”

Planet of the Humans takes a harsh look at how the environmental movement has lost the battle through well-meaning but disastrous choices, including the belief that solar panels and windmills would save us, and by giving in to the corporate interests of Wall Street.

Jeff Gibbs, the writer/producer/director of Planet of the Humans, has dared to say what no one will – that “we are losing the battle to stop climate change because we are following environmental leaders, many of whom are well-intentioned, but who’ve sold out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America.” This film is the wake-up call to the reality which we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the so-called “environmental movement’s” answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. “It’s too little, too late,” says Gibbs. “Removed from the debate is the only thing that might save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption. [1] Why is this not the issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business.”

“Have we environmentalists fallen for illusions, ‘green’ illusions, that are anything but green, because we’re scared that this is the end — and we’ve pinned all our hopes on things like solar panels and wind turbines? No amount of batteries are going to save us, and that is the urgent warning of this film.”

This compelling, must-see movie – a full-frontal assault on our sacred cows – is guaranteed to generate anger, debate, and, hopefully, a willingness to see our survival in a new way—before it’s too late.

[Jeff Gibbs, Writer, Producer, Director | Ozzie Zehner, Producer | Michael Moore, Executive Producer]



Marching for Monsanto

Public Good Project

November 29, 2015

by Jay Taber

change paris2


The Climateers are back. Seeking to recapture the euphoria of the 2014 Rockefeller-funded People’s Climate March, the Wall Street-backed, World Bank-approved Paris Climate 2015 charade is meant to build momentum for removing all barriers to privatization of the planet.

Championed by the UN and transnational corporations like Monsanto, this globalized ‘new economy‘ — hyped by Social Capitalists like World Wildlife Fund and 350 — is integral to Sustaining Privatization. The usurping of civil society by these Wall Street-funded NGOs means the annihilation of civil liberties is just A Click Away.

The Architects of the Final Solution will be pleased at the resounding success of their investments in Controlling Consciousness; the whole world is becoming A Culture of Imbeciles.


[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, a correspondent to Forum for Global Exchange, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as communications director at Public Good Project, a volunteer network of researchers, analysts and activists engaged in defending democracy. As a consultant, he has assisted indigenous peoples in the European Court of Human Rights and at the United Nations.]


Further reading: TckTckTck: The Bitch is Back


Panda Leaks

October 13, 2014

The WWF raises money across the globe to save the orangutan. The organization does, in fact, act to preserve existing national parks that are home to the likeable, funny-faced apes. But at the same time, the WWF – a strong proponent of plant-based energy production worldwide – is aiding its agribusiness partners in annihilating much larger areas of rainforest in the name of sustainability. A years’-long globe-spanning investigative journey took journalist and filmmaker Wilfried Huismann to the Indonesian part of Borneo. There he discovered that in Central Kalimantan alone the company Wilmar International, one of the world’s biggest palm oil players, had already cleared almost 200,000 hectares of rainforest using ruthless slash-and-burn methods. In 2007 the WWF concluded a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Wilmar, pledging support for the company’s Central Kalimantan palm oil operations, which the WWF deems “sustainable”.

Orangutan press

Hundreds of our “forest brethren” have been killed

Travelling by jeep through the Wilmar plantations Huismann bore witness to hundreds of kilometers of industrial monoculture – dead land offering no viable habitat for wildlife. According to surveys conducted by the Indonesian Greenomics Institute, six out of nine orangutan habitats in the new Wilmar plantation areas have already been destroyed. Hundreds of the photogenic great apes – our “forest brethren”, used to such great effect in WWF fundraising campaigns – have been killed as a by-product of forest clearance. The WWF bares partial responsibility for this crime.

In a filmed interview with Huismann WWF Palm Oil Officer Amalia Prameswari defended the collaboration with Wilmar. She said the aim was to encourage the agri-giant to produce “good bioenergy”. She pointed to the fact that the WWF had managed to enforce a measure by which 9,86% of the industrial land concessions would be designated as High Conservation Value (HCV) area and thus protected from deforestation.

Together with Indonesian conservationist Abah Nordin, author Wilfried Huismann drove to the newly laid out plantation Rimba Harapan Sakti, to evaluate the WWF claim. They did indeed find some patches of forest that had been saved from the flames. In one of them Nordin pointed to a treetop: there sat an emaciated orangutan, staring out across the barren land. Nordin summed up: “According to our last survey there are only two orangutans left living here. They’re caught in a trap and will die. There aren’t enough fruit trees in this forest for two apes.” This bit of token “forest” measured 80-hectares – about 900 by 900 meters –specialists say one orangutan family needs about 10,000 hectares to survive. When Huismann queried a group of local plantation laborers one of them said: “The company hires hunters to shoot them. The company protects its property.” It seems the orangutans, in their desperation, had been WWF shares culpability for the mass killing of orangutans “stealing” oil palm fruit.

According to Nordin the orangutans can expect no help from the WWF. A fact the organization affirmed to Wilfried Huismann: it does not have a single orangutan project in Indonesia and runs no rescue centers where the animals might find shelter.

Abah Nordin calls the sustainability label co-founded by the WWF and industrial interests under the banner of the RSPO (Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil) “fraudulent”. “There is no biodiversity in the plantations” He says “everything is dead. Rats are the only animals left there. The WWF greenwashes the environmental crimes of industry- and takes money for doing it.”

Read more in the book


How Human Rights Watch Covers for Companies in Colombia

Down Where the Death Squads Live


October 29, 2013

by Daniel Kovalik


On the CounterPunch masthead are these words proudly written, “Tells the Facts, Names the Names.” It’s because CounterPunch lives up to these words that I happily write for it and proudly donate to it.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), on the other hand, fails to name the names in its recent report on Colombia entitled, “The Risk of Returning Home, Violence and Threats against Displaced People Reclaiming Land in Colombia.” [1] And, this is much to HRW’s discredit.

Before diving into the report and its grave shortcomings, some general comments about HRW are in order. For years, I have been concerned about what appears to be HRW’s penchant for helping lay the groundwork for U.S. and NATO strikes against claimed enemies of the West. Most recently, HRW’s Executive Director, Kenneth Roth, has been fulminating on his Twitter account against anyone, including the EU, who refuses to acknowledge what has yet to be proven as fact – that the Syrian government was allegedly responsible for the chemical attack of August 21, 2013.

WATCH: WWF SILENCE OF THE PANDAS | A Journey into the Heart of the Green Empire


Above: Three of many individuals creating mass-misery and ecological devastation via WWF. Clockwise: Dr Hector Laurence – WWF Argentina (also president of Agricultural Association AIMA and Director of two GMO companies (Morgan Seeds & Pioneer), Dörte Bieler – WWF spokesperson for Germany, Jason Clay – Senior Vice President, Market Transformation.

The WWF is the largest environmental protection organisation in the world. Trust in its “green projects” is almost limitless. Founded on September 11, 1961, it is the most influential lobby group for the environment in the world, thanks largely to its elitist contacts in both the political and industrial spheres and to its ability to walk a constant tightrope between commitment and venality.

This film will dispel the green image of the WWF however. Behind the organisation’s eco-façade, the documentary maker uncovered explosive stories from all around the world. This documentary reveals the secrets of the WWF. It is a journey into the heart of the green empire that will hopefully shatter public faith in such so-called conservation groups forever. [Synopsis below video.]

A film by Wilfried Huismann, Germany, 2011


The WWF, the most famous and powerful environmental organization worldwide, is facing accusations of working too closely with industries that destroy the environment and of ‘greenwashing’ dubious companies. The Fund allegedly collaborates with companies that deforest jungles, displace farmers, destroy the habitat of animals and contaminate the environment, German journalist and documentary maker Wilfried Huismann reveals.

Green Veneer | WWF Helps Industry More than Environment


By Jens Glüsing and Nils Klawitter


“Some people consider it outrageous that Spanish King Juan Carlos, who enjoys hunting big game, is the honorary president of WWF Spain. Here, a 2006 photo of Juan Carlos (right) during a hunting trip in Botswana.”


The WWF is the most powerful environmental organization in the world and campaigns internationally on issues such as saving tigers and rain forests. But a closer look at its work leads to a sobering conclusion: Many of its activities benefit industry more than the environment or endangered species.

Want to protect the rainforest? All it takes is €5 ($6.30) to get started. Save the gorillas? Three euros and you’re in. You can even do your part for nature with only 50 cents — as long as you entrust it to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which is still known by its original name of the World Wildlife Fund in the United States and Canada.

Last year, the WWF, together with German retail group Rewe, sold almost 2 million collectors’ albums. In only six weeks, the program raised €875,088 ($1.1 million), which Rewe turned over to the WWF.

The WWF has promised to do a lot of good things with the money, like spending it on forests, gorillas, water, the climate — and, of course, the animal the environmental protection group uses as its emblem, the giant panda.

Governments also entrust a lot of money to the organization. Over the years, the WWF has received a total of $120 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For a long time, German government ministries were so generous to the organization that the WWF even decided, in the 1990s, to limit the amount of government funding it could receive. The organization was anxious not to be seen as merely an extension of government environmental protection agencies.

Illusion of Aid

But can the WWF truly protect nature against human beings? Or do the organization’s attractive posters merely offer the illusion of help? Fifty years after the organization was founded, there are growing doubts as to the independence of the WWF and its business model, which involves partnering with industry to protect nature.

The WWF, whose international headquarters are located in Gland, Switzerland, is seen as the world’s most powerful conservation organization. It is active in more than 100 countries, where it enjoys close connections to the rich and the powerful. Its trademark panda emblem appears on Danone yoghurt cups and the clothing of jetsetters like Princess Charlene of Monaco. Companies pay seven-figure fees for the privilege of using the logo. The WWF counts 430,000 members in Germany alone, and millions of people give their savings to the organization. The question is how sustainably this money is actually being invested.

SPIEGEL traveled around South America and the Indonesian island of Sumatra to address this question. In Brazil, an agricultural industry executive talked about the first shipload of sustainable soybeans, certified in accordance with WWF standards, to reach Rotterdam last year, amid a flurry of PR hype. The executive had to admit, however, that he wasn’t entirely sure where the shipment had come from. In Sumatra, members of a tribal group reported how troops hired by WWF partner Wilmar had destroyed their houses, because they had stood in the way of unfettered palm oil production.

WWF Denies Palm Oil is the Problem, then Counts the Cash

November 23rd, 2011

The Unsuitablog

It seems there is no depth to which the corporate world’s own favourite NGO, WWF, will not sink. An article in this week’s Guardian was happy to give WWF some free publicity, implying that the group actually give a stuff about the wildlife they were apparently set up to protect (or simply to ensure there is enough to shoot, as some sources suggest). The Palm Oil industry is growing month on month as new swathes of rainforest and other critical habitat are razed to the ground. According to Rainforest Action Network:

Approximately 85 percent of palm oil is grown in the tropical countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) on industrial plantations[3] that have severe impacts on the environment, forest peoples and the climate.

The Indonesian government has announced plans to convert approximately 18 million more hectares of rainforests, an area the size of Missouri, into palm oil plantations by 2020

This is just on current growth in demand, but just you wait what happens when conventional oil supplies start drying up and biofuel demand starts shooting through the roof. No more rainforests.

So, what do WWF think of the palm oil situation?

Palm oil itself is not the issue,” [Adam] Harrison [of WWF] noted. “The problem is how and where palm oil is produced.

Oh, I see. What he is saying is that we can have as much palm oil as we like so long as it’s produced in the right way. Let’s put that into context by quoting from the article some more:

The WWF’s Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard, published on Tuesday, rates 132 mainly European companies, 29 of which received full marks, including 15 from UK such as Cadbury, Boots and Waitrose. No company achieved that level in the last scorecard report in 2009. At the bottom of the 2011 list are big retailers like Aldi, Lidl and Edeka from Germany, who refused to answer any questions about their palm oil policies.

“In the UK in particular we see progress,” said Adam Harrison, palm oil expert at WWF UK. “Due to several campaigns highlighting the damage caused by the rapid spread of palm plantations, companies see they are under pressure and respond.”

But he added: “Although there has been some progress on sustainable palm oil, new commitments are simply not translating fast enough into increased use of certified sustainable palm oil.” The report gives Unilever, the world’s biggest buyer of palm oil, 8 out of a possible 9.

Some companies bad, some companies good, apparently. Unilever are the world’s largest processors of palm oil, so that should instantly put them near the front of the queue for criticism, after all if the companies didn’t put palm oil into their products then it wouldn’t be used, as was the case as little as 10 years ago when “vegetable oil” meant all sorts of different oils that invariably didn’t contribute to the removal of vast areas of rainforest. So how do WWF justify giving a company like Unilever such a brilliant score?

The Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2011 measures the performance of more than 130 major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers against four areas which WWF
believes show whether or not these companies are acting responsibly in terms of palm oil use and sourcing:

• Being an active member of the RSPO;
• Making a public commitment to RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil;
• Disclosing how much palm oil they use;
• Showing how much of the palm oil they use is CSPO or is supporting sustainable production.

Let’s break that down a bit:

Being an active member of the RSPO;

The RSPO were founded by a band of palm oil growers, processing giants and WWF. According to WWF’s definition of “sustainable palm oil” the RSPO is the only organisation that has any credence; just like with “sustainable” timber WWF ignores, and positively campaigns against, any certifier other than FSC. WWF’s investment arm is raking in billions of dollars (I have been told this could be in the range of $60 billion for just one standards-based scheme in the Amazon) from the various schemes it oversees and then takes a cut from. The RSPO is just another such scheme: if WWF can convince everyone that this burgeoning market can be made “sustainable” then the potential from their founder member status for making money is enormous.

Making a public commitment to RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil;

The public commitment, along with the branding on products as strongly suggested by WWF, provides further credibility for this pork barrel scheme. No other certification counts, even if the palm oil was produced in an area that always contained oil palm.

Disclosing how much palm oil they use;

This serves to show the extent to which RSPO is cornering the palm oil market. Not just that, the relationship between RSPO members and WWF is a circular one; according to RSPO:

By joining the RSPO, organizations publicly communicate their commitment to sustainable palm oil production and use as well as to raise their reputation as a pro-active, solution-oriented and socially responsible organization. Ordinary Members have the right to vote at the General Assembly and can be elected to represent the relevant sector in the Executive Board by the category in question. They can have access to all materials produced by RSPO for its members, through the RSPO website and newsletter. Ordinary Members have a say in the development of criteria for sustainable palm oil production. They also have the opportunity to network with other companies in the palm oil value chain that share their values. By demonstrating their efforts towards sustainable palm oil, they can thereby improve their access to markets and investment sources.

Become a member, especially a large-scale member, and you can even change the meaning of the word “sustainable”. More importantly, you have access to all that filthy lucre. WWF, of course, get a cut of that filthy lucre.

Showing how much of the palm oil they use is CSPO or is supporting sustainable production.

CSPO means Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (a.k.a. RSPO Certified Palm Oil). Simply put, the more RSPO palm oil you use, the better your score. No matter that the members of the RSPO can manipulate the certification to suit the industry and it is in WWF’s interest to keep the biggest members on the table to ensure the RSPO monopoly is retained. As reported by Rebecca Zhou:

WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Manager Lydia Gaskell says that companies wanting to be certified are given action plans and targets according to ‘the size of the company and how sustainable they are.’

“To take a company off certification for failing to meet standards and criteria is at the very least, impractical,” said Gaskell. “There would be no need for the RSPO if everyone was meeting those principles and standards from day one.”

What really shouts out, though, is the text from WWF’s own report, which demonstrates in black and white how much value they really give to a sustainable future as compared to one in which industry holds sway over everything. They do not recommend stopping the industrial use of palm oil; instead they look forward to a thriving palm oil future. I recommend a strong stomach if you are to read the following slice of corporate-friendly PR (the emphasis of doublespeak and greenwash is mine) – after which I feel only 5 more words are necessary:

Oil palm yields more oil per hectare of land than any other crop in the world. That is one of the reasons why palm oil makes up more or less a third of the 151 million tonnes of vegetable oil produced worldwide. Its wide availability and low price combined with certain unique characteristics means that it is used in many packaged food and personal care products that line supermarket shelves. Ice cream, margarine, biscuits, cakes, breakfast cereals, soup stock cubes, snacks, ready meals, instant noodles, shampoos, soaps, lipsticks, candles and washing-up liquids—all of these items often contain palm oil that was produced in tropical countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

And palm oil is here to stay. Demand is expected to reach 77 million tonnes in 2050 to help feed the world’s growing population and the increased affluence of emerging economies like China and India. And its use may possibly grow even more if demand increases for palm oil as a biofuel.

The thriving palm oil industry also contributes significantly to the well-being of producer countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, and increasingly in the palm oil frontiers of Africa and Latin America. In these countries and regions, the palm oil sector can create employment that helps to lift rural people out of poverty.

Established brands such as ASDA , Carrefour, IKEA, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, that are relatively large users of palm oil (using tens of thousands of tonnes each year) have progressed very well. Medium-sized users such as Co-op Switzerland, Co-operative Group UK, ICA, Marks & Spencer, Migros, Royal Ahold and Waitrose, have also performed well in their size class. Among the small palm oil volume retailers, Axfood, The Body Shop and the Boots Group are ahead of the curve.

There is a second group of retailers that are at the start of their journey and that WWF expects to do better in future Scorecards. These include Casino, Coles Supermarkets, Delhaize Group, E.Leclerc, Kesko Food, Metcash Trading, REWE Group, the SOK Group and Woolworths.

Unfortunately there is still a large number of companies that are not yet performing as well as they should, and certainly not as well as the Scorecard’s leading companies show is possible.

Disappointingly, 12 out of the 44 retailers scored have still not joined the RSPO, a very basic first step in taking responsibility for the palm oil they use.

…and benefiting WWF’s financial performance.

EDITORIAL: Earth Hour, corporate sponsors and burning planets

14 March 2010

“Earth Hour” will be held around the world on March 27. The event is organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and involves participants switching off their lights for the hour as a symbolic declaration of support for environmental action.

The Earth Hour website is sponsored by, among others, Woolworths Limited, the giant supermarket and retail corporation. With the amount of waste and pollution associated with the retail industry in frivolous consumption, built-in obsolescence and so on, this would seem an odd choice for sponsor.

WWF has a shocking record for quite uncritically accepting sponsorship from polluting industries. Back in 2002, Counterpunch co-editor Jeffrey St. Clair exposed WWF’s links with logging corporation Weyerhaeuser, writing on that WWF “rakes in millions from corporations, including Alcoa, Citigroup, the Bank of America, Kodak, J.P. Morgan, the Bank of Tokyo, Philip Morris, Waste Management and DuPont”.

In November 2009, more than 80 environmental organisations from 31 countries signed a letter attacking WWF’s founding role in the “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil”. The letter said: “WWF’s involvement is being used by agrofuel companies to justify building more refineries and more palm oil power stations in Europe.”

The palm oil industry is a leading cause of destruction of tropical rainforests.
Currently, WWF is one of the key “environment” organisations in Australia promoting “clean coal”. This hypothetical technology is the main prop in the Australian coal industry’s smoke-and-mirrors trickery to keep the public off its back.

Clearly, WWF is a willing aide to corporate polluters who want to be seen to be cleaning up their act. How much does the environment get back? Whatever WWF ekes out for payment in its bargaining with the devil, it isn’t working for the environment.

The Earth Hour website includes a link to a calculator where visitors can work out their own personal carbon footprint. If you follow links for what you can do after the event to “make Earth Hour every hour” you will be directed toward various governmental awareness raising schemes and green power providers.

If the event simply raised people’s awareness a little, it would be better than nothing. But sometimes “not enough” is worse than nothing: it’s a false hope. The direct links to our climate-criminal government, as much as any donations from polluting corporations, are like telling people to go back to sleep, not to get up, when the house is burning down.

Although individuals will gain positive feelings from participating in Earth Hour, climate activists have to channel popular concern about climate change into rebellion, not tokenism. Or our whole planet will burn down around us.

WWF: Big NGO Greenwashing the Palm Oil Industry

Environmentalists argue that what began as an initiative to clean up dirty palm oil production practices, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has become little more than an NGO-endorsed greenwashing tool. Rebecca Zhou, of Reportage/enviro reports.

13:56 March 5, 2010Articles, Columns, Papua New Guinea1 comment

Due to an increase in worldwide demand for food, palm oil production has grown dramatically since it began in the 1970s. Image: CELCOR.

Pacific Scoop:
Special Report – By Rebecca Zhou.

Environmentalists argue that what began as an initiative to clean up dirty palm oil production practices, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has become little more than an NGO-endorsed greenwashing tool. Rebecca Zhou, of Reportage/enviro reports.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was set up by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to involve companies in creating more sustainable ways of producing palm oil. However environmental experts believe that not only is the RSPO ineffective, it has become a way to green wash poor practices.

“The RSPO gives the companies a green front and encourages more consumption, which is precisely the cause of the problem,” said Valerie Phillips, forest campaigner of the Greenpeace branch in Papua New Guinea, one of the three countries most adversely affected by the palm oil industry.

The Roundtable board includes stakeholders from producers, processors to traders and retailers who work with NGOs to develop a set of ‘Principles and Criteria’ that all member companies must follow to be certified.

One of the environmentalists’ main concerns is that there is no legal framework around the ‘P&C’ and companies work at their own pace to meet them. Often they are not met at all.

“It is a voluntary initiative so the company cannot even be held accountable for failing to meet standards,” said Eddie Tanago of the Centre of Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR) in Papua New Guinea.

“Up till now there are 11 or 12 companies certified under RSPO mechanism, however all of the companies have gotten complaints because of most of them are not following the principles and criteria of RSPO but still have the certificate,” said Agrofuels campaigner from Friends of the Earth Indonesia, Torry Kuswardono.

WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Manager Lydia Gaskell says that companies wanting to be certified are given action plans and targets according to ‘the size of the company and how sustainable they are.’

“To take a company off certification for failing to meet standards and criteria is at the very least, impractical,” said Gaskell. “There would be no need for the RSPO if everyone was meeting those principles and standards from day one.”

The fact that action plans and targets are negotiable is another weakness, said Grant Rosoman, Forests Campaigner for Greenpeace International. He believes that WWF’s close affiliation with businesses has led to compromises in their conservation efforts.

Misuse of environmental indicators

Under the P&C, the company must work with WWF to identify ‘High Value Conservation Forest’ (HCVF) areas prior to plantation. WWF, with the assistance of other independent consultancies such as Daemeter Consulting use a HCVF ‘toolkit’ as a framework to define these areas.

“They’ve taken the HCVF concept and misused it,” said Rosoman, “The HCVF is essentially open to interpretation and when used this way, the assessments see heavy interference from the company.”

“Say the assessment is done and 50 percent of the land is written off as being primary forest. The company says not feasible. It then becomes negotiable with WWF to reducing that down to a more ‘economic level’. In the end it gets to something ridiculous like only 10 percent of the area.”

WWF has been under fire in the past for receiving enormous levels of funding from corporate companies. In 2007, it received $20 million from Coca Cola for research into water efficiency. Its 2008 annual Financial Report recorded revenue of $196.5 million while Greenpeace reported a 2007-08 revenue of a little over $40 million.

“WWF needs to take a side and really stick to their guns and not be influenced by the client. Poor HVCF assessments risks good work done on the ground,” said Rosoman.

Kuswardono is also concerned with the lack of transparency with HCVF assessments and the role that WWF plays in the process.

“It’s hard to know what WWF’s role is because they are always acting in the gray area between the government and the company,” said Kuswardono.

“Although WWF will set principles and criteria which promote their interests in HCV forests, they won’t push the companies to implement them.”

Violation of land rights

Investigations into RSPO certified company Wilmar International show that it has been clearing land without proper consultation with communities. Criterion 2.3 in the P&C states that the company must ensure ‘use of land for oil palm does not diminish the legal rights, or customary rights, of other users, without their free, prior and informed consent’ and that prior negotiations with locals must involve ‘open sharing of all relevant information in appropriate forms and languages, including assessments of impacts, proposed benefit sharing and legal arrangements.’

Kuswardono says that when companies do consultations, they are insufficient and often misleading.

“They will use tactics of division by selecting certain figures of the community who support their projects and cause a divide between communities in this way.”
A joint investigation by NGOs into Singapore palm oil giant Wilmar International in October 2009 revealed that crucial information about land rights were often omitted during negotiations with community. The team discovered that a large majority of local people living in the Landak plantation area had been misled into relinquishing their land to the company.?Under Indonesian law, the land leased to a company is returned to the government, and not the original owner. The investigation showed that those who agreed to relinquish their land did it under the belief that they could reclaim ownership after expiration of the lease.

The investigation team reported that ‘they [community leaders] vehemently asserted that the lands were theirs and should revert to them and that they had only lent the lands to the companies for their use (hak pakai). Two interviewees in the widely separated districts went on to say that they would never have agreed to release their lands if they had known that this was permanent.’

Health issues

A study by CELCOR in 2006 reveals that some of Cargill’s plantations managed by its subsidiary Higaturu, have also gravely affected communities’ health.

In 1976, Higaturu, a subsidiary of Cargill started a plantation in Popondetta in Oro Province, where the Kokoda Track is situated. The health effects of the mill on local communities for the past 33 years has been severe and in some cases, irreversible.

The study documented the effects of nine toxic chemicals such as the herbicide ‘paraquat’ used commonly in all plantations as well as a variety of insecticides. Its effects range from skin diseases, ulceration and alterations to the Central Nervous System resulting in intense nausea and loss of reflexes. Paraquat was banned by the European Union (EU) in 2007 but remains legal in most developing countries. Though it is still commonly used in Australia and New Zealand, there are strict regulations governing it.

“The people live all the way down near the rivers there and those rivers have all been polluted with the effluent from the mills. The company reports claim that it is a hundred per cent treated but it’s not,” said Tanago.

“The people depend on the river for living. They drink from it and they wash their clothes in it and they continue to do so because they have nowhere else to go.”

In response to allegations of pollution made by CELCOR and Friends of the Earth to the RSPO grievances panel in 2008, Wilmar responded that they would prepare ‘to adopt a precautionary approach by conducting Environmental lmpact Assessments, a full HCVF Assessment and Social Impact Assessments before any land development in the area commences.’

But Tanago maintains that he has not seen any real commitment from the company.

“Their complaints have fallen on deaf ears. The company says that there is no scientific backing and sometimes they will just refuse to answer them. There is evidence of suffering though. About 60 per cent of village of 200 people are affected. Only few ever speak up about it.”

WWF also seems to believe that complaints from the communities and findings of NGOs require more substantial evidence.

“There will always be allegations, and WWF can’t be everywhere at once.”

“Cargill and Wilmar are definitely not a hundred per cent there yet,” said Gaskell, “In fact I wouldn’t say that any of the companies are quite there yet.”

“WWF is very much aware of the situation on the ground,” said Grant Rosaman, forests campaigner for Greenpeace International, “But when WWF becomes an external assessment body for the companies, the companies become their clients and it gets very difficult for them to stay loyal to their agenda.”

Forest Restoration coordinator for WWF Indonesia, Fitrian Ardiansyah concedes that some companies on the Roundtable have continued their malpractices.

“This is a challenge for us. And we have been naming and shaming companies which use the RSPO to cover up their practices,” said Ardiansyah.

The RSPO website has a list of companies whose memberships have been terminated but no such ‘name and shame’ list that draws attention to the alleged malpractices of major companies like Wilmar and Cargill, exists. An older version of the RSPO website however, did report a complaint made against Wilmar International by Friends of the Earth in January 2008. Complaints made against companies are dealt with by the Grievances Board, which consists of stakeholders instead of external assessors. In response to the allegations against Wilmar, the executive board stated that ‘There are three items in the response where further assurance is to be secured…none of these three items, individually or collectively, were considered as invalidating the acceptability of the response.’ There was no specification of what those three items were and whether Wilmar delivered its assurance. At the time of this article’s publication, the executive board’s response had been removed from the new RSPO website, a move that further shows the board’s lack of transparency.

The Singapore biofuel giant remains a member of the Roundtable and received full certification in January 2009 as ‘a testament of Wilmar’s strong commitment towards sustainable palm oil production, based on sound management and active engagement with the different stakeholders in the palm oil supply chain’, according to a company press statement

Gaskell describes the Roundtable as a ‘journey of improvement’ that WWF guides them along. It is also a journey for the organisation itself, which is constantly seeking ways to improve the principles and criteria.

“RSPO has worked hard to get a set of standards that are far and beyond the current level of practices. They are the best practice management right now. And those standards are not set. WWF will continue working with companies to strengthen them.”

But both international and local campaigners believe that WWF is missing the point, which is that without a legal framework within the country that can govern a company’s actions, the RSPO is useless. Furthermore, local governments often have no regard for the environmental impacts of plantations and this makes it difficult for the company to carry out assessments without heavy financial losses and thereby making them more likely to skip the process.

Government indifference

In Indonesia, the Department of Agriculture regulates and distributes permits to companies. These location permits provide for the transfer of rights of the land to companies for commercial uses but are only valid for three years. In that time, companies must carry out initial surveys, socialisation programs and environmental impact assessments, secure investments, apply for and be granted requisite permits for clearance and construction and install the necessary infrastructure. Delays occur for a number of reasons and permits are often forfeited if the company cannot complete the process on time.

“It is very likely that the companies will not perform assessments or community consultations properly because they are afraid they will lose the land to someone else,” said Kuswardono.

“The government in Indonesia or Papua New Guinea doesn’t care how much forest will be destroyed when they give out these permits.”

The same investigation by Sawit Watch, Wild Asia and Forest Peoples Programme found that as a reaction to complaints of other businesses, governments often rush to reallocate these permits to other companies. Wilmar International was reported to have had over a total area of 120,100 ha in 2006 with active permits. By 2009, the Minister for Agriculture had cancelled permits to almost all these areas and had then restored to Wilmar only 52,204 ha. The main receiver of the permits was a company called Djarum, which is not RSPO certified and was alleged to have cleared land without conducting environmental impact assessments or securing agreements from host communities.

“The big task which WWF and RSPO should focus on is creating a legal bind for the HVC assessments so that companies can be held accountable for their actions,” said Tanago.

“Nothing is being done right now about the pollution and land clearance because the government is on the company’s side.”

WWF concedes that it is a difficult situation but maintains that it is taking a constructive approach.

“We have been involved with the Indonesian government since the early days of the RSPO and taking all the necessary steps in the process,” said Ardiansyah, former forest restoration coordinator for WWF Indonesia. “It is a difficult process because the government does not yet understand.”

“But I would say that 50 per cent of the P&C have already been incorporated into government agenda. The critical points related to social and indigenous issues are not quite there yet.”

Carbon emissions

Palm oil production also accounts for a large majority of Indonesia’s carbon emissions. When each hectare of peatland is drained for oil palm production, an estimated 3,750-5,400 tons of carbon dioxide is released over 25 years. Due to this, Indonesia is the highest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the U.S.

The Roundtable held its annual conference in Kuala Lumpur in early November 2009 and according to its press releases, the executive board managed to ‘reach a compromise in which some emissions reduction requirements will be directly incorporated in the Roundtable’s certification standards.’ Again, the standards to be followed will be voluntary.

“This is a move in the right direction,” said Adam Harrison, WWF’s representative on the RSPO Executive Board in a press statement released after the meeting. “We encourage companies to embrace emissions reduction standards once they become available and do their part to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change.”

The fact that the RSPO does not factor the enormous levels of CO2 emitted from plantations has been one of the primary concerns of NGOs. WWF appears to consider the outcome of the latest annual meeting a constructive step forward but it is unlikely that the others will agree.


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Rebecca Zhou is an editor with Reportage Enviro, a branch of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism magazine, Reportage. The publication has been founded on the ethos of critical and alternative investigation into issues explored by mainstream media outlets as well as ones that are overlooked.