Court Convicts First Palm Oil Company for Illegally Clearing Forests


In a precedent-setting case, an Indonesian court ruled
against a palm oil company for illegally destroying virgin peat
forest.

For decades, palm oil companies have managed to skirt the laws,
clearing much of Indonesia’s rainforests, but PT Kallista Alam didn’t
get away with it. After illegally burning huge swaths of protected
habitat, the company must pay more than $30 million, reports Environment News Service (ENS).

Most of that will be used to restore the habitat for endangered species
such as Sumatran tigers, rhinos, elephants, Malayan sun bears, and
critically endangered orangutans.

“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can
destroy protected forests and get away with it,” says Muhammad Nur, Chairman of
WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).


Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment brought the case. In addition,
there are hefty fines for every day the company delays payment and
and over 
5,700 hectares
of land managed by the company was  confiscated.

Indonesia Leuser

“Tripa is one of only three remaining peat swamp forests left containing
orangutans in Sumatra and it’s impossible to overstate the importance of
protecting every last hectare of each of them,” says Dr. Ian
Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program.

Only about 6,500 orangutans remain in Sumatra, and one of the densest populations is in Tripa. Experts say they are close to being exterminated in the area after these fires.

Although the court ruling is a victory, the Leuser Ecosystem isn’t out of danger. There’s still plenty of pressure to open the area to palm oil and timber concessions. And PT Kallista says it will appeal the case.

 

Yet, the judges decision shows the tide could be turning. "It illustrates a move towards improved law enforcement against environmental offenders in the region, says a lawyer who is working with communities in the region.

Other civil and criminal prosecutions are also in process against PT Kallista and four other oil palm companies. Besides facing fines, senior officials and directors could get prison terms, Nur told ENS. 

“It represents one significant step in the right direction, but I think many more such steps are needed before we will really see a change in the behaviour of companies and officials,” Graham Usher, of the Switzerland-based PanEco Foundation, told ENS.


Palm oil is a huge industry – it’s an ingredient in half the products on grocery shelves in such everyday products as soap and margerine. Nearly 90% of it is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia and now companies are moving into Africa.


Besides wreaking havoc on tropical forest
ecosystems, m
uch of the land leased to these corporations actually belongs to indigenous  people. Since they can’t prove ownership, they land is literally cleared from under their feet (no compensation), and they have to flee just as the animals do. 


The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil offers certification that palm oil comes from sustainable managed sources and has more than 1,300 members including 79 US companies such
as Hain Celestial, WhiteWave Foods, and Seventh Generation. We’ve heard, however, that the certification is rife with loopholes.

A slew of companies including Starbucks
and Kroger
have committed to buying only sustainably certified palm oil and there’s hope for replacements from companies like Solazyme, which plans to produce an algae oil as a replacement.

Look at the ingredients on the products you buy and you’ll be amazed by how many contain palm oil. 


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