The owner of some of Australia’s most famous food brands has been linked to deforestation in Indonesia after new footage of land clearing in North Sumatra was obtained by 7.30.
Wilmar International owns CSR Sugar and has a 50 per cent stake in Goodman Fielder, the maker of Meadow Lea margarine, Wonder White and Helga’s Bread, and Praise Mayonnaise.
The footage reveals an excavator tearing down forest and digging canals in the Tripa peatland, part of the crucial Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra, and a key habitat for endangered wildlife. “It is the last place on earth where you can find Sumatran orangutans, the tigers, the elephants and the rhinos all coexisting together in the wild,” said Gemma Tillack, campaign director with the US-based Rainforest Action Network.
The clearance has been taking place on a palm oil plantation which was part of the Wilmar supply chain, and in spite of a moratorium on land clearing in the Leuser Ecosystem announced by the Aceh Government. The country’s president has also indicated a move to ban any further palm oil plantations in other parts of Indonesia. Wilmar International is a Singapore-based agri-business which is the world’s biggest palm oil trader.
The company bought CSR Sugar in 2010, as well as Goodman Fielder in 2015, in partnership with the Hong-Kong based conglomerate First Pacific. Land-clearing traced to Wilmar mill. The footage obtained by 7.30 was filmed last month by field investigators from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). It shows workers from a palm oil plantation clearing land using an excavator. The extent of the clearance suggests the activity had been underway for months.
The RAN investigators then filmed workers at the plantation loading a truck with palm oil fruit and followed the truck to a processing mill known as Raja Marga. The mill is listed by Wilmar International on its website as a supplier of its palm oil. “I was shocked,” Ms Tillack said. “I actually thought that by now Wilmar would’ve identified all the third party actors that are still destroying the Leuser and convinced them to either stop or to shut down their operations,” she said. Senator Nick Xenophon has called for Wilmar to improve its efforts to identify cases of deforestation in its supply chain.
In a statement to 7.30, Wilmar said it shares the concerns about the Leuser Ecosystem and it has taken action on the processing mill which was filmed receiving the fruit from the land-clearing plantation. “Through Wilmar’s own monitoring and due diligence, we have of our own accord halted buying from the company since October 2016,” Wilmar said. The company says it maintains a proactive program to manage non-compliance in its supply chain, including making 15 field assessment visits to mills operating in the Leuser Ecosystem in 2015. Ms Tillack acknowledged Wilmar had improved its sustainability performance in recent years, but said the latest footage undermined the company’s efforts. “Two years ago, Wilmar did commit to stopping deforestation, to stopping the destruction of the peatland and the exploitation of workers and communities, so it has taken the first step with this commitment,” she said.
“But what we’ve found on the ground is that its third-party suppliers continue to destroy rainforests including those in the Leuser Ecosystem.” Last week in a report by Amnesty International, Wilmar International was accused of labour abuse in its supply chain. The company has also been locked in disputes with indigenous communities in Indonesia, and other suppliers have also been accused of deforestation. Environmental campaigners are challenging Wilmar to investigate the latest footage. “Wilmar is connected to the destruction of Tripa’s peatland, and it is connected to the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem,” Ms Tillack said. “Wilmar needs to go beyond the mill, they need to get down to the frontline of forest destruction and stop the bulldozers in their tracks.” Wilmar’s assistant general manager of group sustainability, Perpetua George, described the Leuser Ecosystem as the “last refuge for iconic wildlife species”.
“The moratorium initiative by the Aceh Government has provided an opportunity for private sector players like Wilmar, as well as RAN … to potentially work together to overcome the trade-off dilemma and achieve this agenda,” she said. Senator Xenophon said he will reintroduce a bill to Federal Parliament to require specific labelling of palm oil products in Australia. “At the moment, palm oil is just labelled as a vegetable oil and it’s just given a number. It’s meaningless in terms of consumers being informed,” he said. “I’d like to think that next year in 2017, particularly with these latest revelations, will be the year when we will finally see some truth in labelling when it comes to palm oil.”
Author: Hayden Cooper