Deforestation Scandal Grows as Labor Problems Continue

by Diana Ruiz

August 2, 2017

As the Indonesian government confirms forest fires have started again, more evidence emerges that Malaysian palm oil giant FELDA has been trashing rainforests.

Drone footage of PT TAA, April 2017 ©Aidenvironment

Shocking footage of vast wasteland carved out of the rainforest. Drone footage of PT TAA, April 2017 ©Aidenvironment

As the Indonesian government confirms forest fires have started again, more evidence emerges that Malaysian palm oil giant FELDA has been trashing rainforests.

Civil society organizations used drones and satellites to investigate FELDA’s plantations in West Kalimantan, and caught the company red-handed clearing carbon-rich peatlands. Cross-referencing satellite imagery with official maps from the Indonesian government showed that FELDA had destroyed 1,888 hectares of forest and peatland between December 31, 2015, and April 22, 2017. In April, Aidenvironment flew drones over FELDA’s concession and captured shocking footage of a vast wasteland carved out of the rainforest.

This is not the first time that FELDA has been caught in the act. In 2015, the Wall Street Journal published an in-depth investigation into labor abuses in FELDA’s concessions in Malaysia. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) suspended one of FELDA’s palm oil mills. FELDA responded by pulling all 58 mills out of RSPO’s certification system.

The palm oil industry’s reckless practices have taken their toll on Indonesia’s people and environment. In 2015, the country suffered from devastating forest fires that created a haze crisis across Southeast Asia. The World Bank estimated that these fires cost more than $16 billion and a study by Harvard and Columbia University estimated that the 2015 fires caused 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia alone.

Forest and peatland destruction by Indonesia’s palm oil and paper companies created the conditions for this disaster. Yet companies like FELDA carried on destroying rainforests. Outrageously, FELDA’s palm oil will have been bought by brands that make the products we use every day.

Aerial photo taken from a helicopter shows forest fires in the Riau Province, July 28, 2017. © Greenpeace

Indonesia cannot afford another fire and haze crisis. Last week, the government released some alarming news: fires appear to have started again in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan. It’s too early to tell how serious the fires will be, but one thing is certain: if companies that buy palm oil don’t start cutting off destructive palm oil producers like FELDA, more lives and rainforest will be lost.

Diana Ruiz

By Diana Ruiz

Diana Ruiz is a palm oil campaigner for Greenpeace USA.

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