My home, Indonesia, has the world’s third-largest tropical forest with the most biodiversity on earth, but we are also one of the five largest carbon emitters in the world, mostly due to the cutting and burning of our forests and peatlands. Today, while the Amazon fires capture international headlines, fires have also been raging here in Indonesia as well that harming the life of so many people.
Some of my friends and colleagues have had to evacuate their families from Central Kalimantan due to these fires, and Greenpeace Indonesia’s forest prevention team is still fighting to suppress the fires as I write. The fires and haze is mostly human-made, much of it the burning of forests for more palm oil plantations. Fires and haze may even be linked to Wilmar, Mondelez, Unilever and other companies that have committed to protect our forests, with No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policies.
Last year, I was crossing the equator in the Rainbow Warrior – Greenpeace’s flagship – visiting some remote islands in the eastern part of my country, Papua, Indonesia. We have over 17,000 islands here, and our specific research expedition (no, it was not a vacation) was both inspiring and enraging. Our objective was to locate and verify deforestation on the ground. Sadly, we did not need to look far to find it, and we quickly found significant evidence that big producer groups are still responsible for deforestation were supplying palm oil to Wilmar.
In September of 2018, I participated in Greenpeace’s major non-violent direct action at Wilmar International’s refinery in Bitung, North Sulawesi, where thirty Greenpeace activists unfurled a huge banner reading “Drop Dirty Palm Oil Now.” That refinery was being used to process palm oil from major producers that were destroying rainforests in Kalimantan and Papua, Indonesia and shipped across the globe to the consumer brands.
Thirty Greenpeace activists from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, UK, France Australia and members of the Indonesian rock band Boomerang, occupy a palm oil refinery belonging to Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader and supplies major brands including Colgate, Mondelez, Nestlé and Unilever.
As a result of Greenpeace pressure, Wilmar made some important public commitments in 2018, including a new action plan in October where it committed to leading a cross-industry collaboration to tackle deforestation beyond its supply chain, and a Joint Statement in December with Aidenvironment, Mondelez, and Unilever where it promised to suspend dirty suppliers and groups engaged in deforestation, conserve and restore destroyed forests, and establish a mapping platform to monitor the implementation of these commitments. Greenpeace called this a potential breakthrough provided Wilmar got the details right and fully implemented its commitments. We then called on other traders like GAR, Musim Mas and Sime Darby to meet or beat these plans.
Greenpeace also took seriously the statements of Wilmar’s CEO and owner, Mr. Kuok Khoon Hong, who has repeatedly called for strong collaborations between companies and NGOs to build a deforestation-free supply chain. Therefore, rather than more Rainbow Warrior trips, banner drops on tankers, or other high profile activities with the 174 groups and 800 volunteers around the world who engaged in the 2018 Wilmar campaign, I spent the first eight months of 2019 at the table in collaborative discussions with the signatories of the Joint Statement: Wilmar, Mondelez, Unilever, and Aidenvironment.
Our goal was to collaboratively create a single common monitoring platform where companies and NGOs (and hopefully in time, governments) come together to monitor deforestation and make sure that it is excluded from supply chains.
Unfortunately, while some progress was made, we were ultimately unable to get clear agreement on the basic elements for a credible common monitoring platform. To Greenpeace this means the parties are still not serious about meeting their commitments to having their supply chains deforestation-free by the end of 2019. As a result, Greenpeace recently decided to step back from this process.
We are running out of time. Our forests from Brazil to the Boreal to Borneo are burning, we are facing a climate emergency and we are calling for the immediate and transformative action needed to address these crises. If companies find deforestation links to their suppliers and groups they should drop them.
Unless companies and governments are able to prove they are supplying products that are deforestation free, nobody should buy them. This is not just about palm oil as we are calling out other commodities like soya, meat and cattle; and this is not just a corporate problem but one that is aided and abetted by governments in Brazil, Indonesia, Europe, China, the USA, and elsewhere.
We should never underestimate our power as consumers to demand that products no longer be linked to deforestation. Greenpeace’s campaign against Wilmar and Mondelez last year saw 1.5 million people across the globe sign a petition and mobilize to take action in key consumer countries like the UK, Germany and the USA. We need to ensure that corporate NDPE commitments translate into meaningful action on the ground to stop deforestation. We will not campaign just to get one commitment after the next, we need companies to fulfil their commitments and no longer support deforestation and human rights abuses, but instead support conservation, restoration, and local rights and livelihoods. We need real action.
I often think about the statement from Sir Robert Watson earlier this year that “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
This fills me with many thoughts: will the leaders of these or other major companies take the action the world needs or just continue to talk about it and be satisfied with more delays? Will they ready to change their business as usual? Will they read these words? Will they act? Will they care?
Annisa Rahmawati is a forests campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia