The palm oil giant Wilmar is making clear its deforestation commitments mean nothing

An area of around 1500 football pitches has been cleared on an oil palm plantation during last year. The concession is managed by PT Medcopapua Hijau Selaras a supplier to Wilmar. Wilmar is the worlds largest palm oil trader, and includes amongst their customers huge companies such as Kelloggs nestle and unilever.

Rather than denying the deforestation occurred, Wilmar has claimed that less land was cleared than is claimed (this is a foolish claim to make as we have satellite pictures from before and after), and then claims that they are not responsible anyway and that the clearing was done by smallholder farmers.

This is obviously absurd. Disputing the area cleared is a waste of time as anyone can check. Disputing that you are responsible is a weird claim to make, as you manage the concession – therefore what happens there is your responsibility.

Unless they are claiming that they have lost control of their land (which they are not) this excuse has not validity what so ever. What’s more, the organisation mighty earth flagged the deforestation and it continued for months – therefore even if they were currently elsewhere they were told what was going on and failed to act.

The land manager has further claimed that the land that was deforested (which as I said they claim no responsibility for the clearing) was not high carbon stock (HCS) or high conservation value (HCV), however as these areas were primary rainforest this cannot be true.

Wilmar has claimed that a field verification was necessary because the satellite images were not enough to identify deforestation. Firstly, this is totally false – and it can be checked with ease: you can indeed tell from satellite images that an area has been deforested (more to the point, the resolution to be able to make this judgement can be very low). Secondly, this strikes as a way to make sure the deforestation takes place, as due to the pandemic a ground assessment was not possible for some time.

PUSAKA, an organisation which works to protect indigenous rights, has indeed done a ground survey, confirming the deforestation – indeed the organisation states that it was this and not satellite images which pushed them to point out what is going on. They also flew a drone over the land, so have clear images to show what happened. The local community also confirms what happened and states that the deforestation started in January.

So what should we do? Well, probably boycott the companies that use Wilmar as a supplier. As a start Unilever Kellogg’s and Nestle should be avoided, or written to. It is certainly very difficult to avoid many of these products, and palm oil is often not listed as an ingredient (with manufacturers writing vegetable oil). One of the best way to steer your money is to buy own brand – these own brand products are directly under the control of the organisation in question. As such they should know what is going on. My family currently shops at Tesco’s, and their own unbranded products are significantly more tracible than the branded products that they are competing with.

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