The opaque tactics of the palm oil company BGA

Dec 9, 2015

We received a letter from the Indonesian palm oil company Bumitama Gunajaya Agro (BGA) requesting us to take down a petition our website. The company claimed that the issues of rainforest destruction we addressed in the petition had been resolved and compliance with the standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) had been assured. Our local partners tell a different story, however.

In April 2013, the organizations Friends of Borneo and International Animal Rescue Indonesia (IAR) lodged an official complaint with the RSPO. The reason: BGA had violated RSPO standards by clearing valuable rainforest habitat of protected orangutans and proboscis monkeys.

BGA, the palm oil division of the Indonesian corporation Bumitama Agri Ltd., has been an RSPO member since 2007.

Two and a half years (!) after the complaint, BGA now considers the case to be closed. Bremen Yong, BGA Group Head of Sustainability, wrote us claiming that the company had “taken necessary action to resolve the concerns raised”.

The RSPO audit apparently took place behind closed doors.The organizations that filed the complaint were neither consulted nor invited to contribute to the investigation. They therefore do not consider the issue to be resolved.

A meeting of various organizations with Bremen Yong on November 17, 2015, did not shed any further light on the matter. “BGA is now ‘trying’ to do things right”, a spokesperson of the environmentalists observed. “We don’t know if the actions they are planning will become a reality, but we will try to help wherever we can. But the fact remains that they have done a lot of bad and a lot of damage in the past.”

This includes the illegal clearing of 7,000 hectares of primary rainforest in Central Kalimantan, for which BGA was sentenced to a fine by the Indonesian Supreme Court in 2014.

The same year, the IAR was called to save a helpless orangutan from starving. He had spent months trapped on a tiny island of forest surrounded by a water-filled ditch in the middle of a newly planted BGA plantation.

Despite the promise to “do things right”, BGA continues to violate RSPO rules:on September 26, 2015, the NGO Link-AR Borneo and the community of Keklipor lodged a further complaint against unlawful activities by BGA on their land in West Kalimantan.

These and other cases are ample evidence that the RSPO seal is mere greenwashing. It does not prevent deforestation, loss of biodiversity, or even brutal land grabs against indigenous communities.

For more information, please read the current study by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). A summary can be found here.