Wilmar Violates the Zero-Deforestation Policy

Public Consultation without the Public: How Wilmar Violates the Zero-Deforestation Policy
BALIKPAPAN, 11. 2. 2014.

A total of 18 NGOs and researchers sent an official letter to Wilmar, in which they complain that a public meeting, which discussed the proposed conversion of a High Conservation Value Forest in Balikpapan Bay, was held in absence of any conservation NGOs.

Mangrove conversion into palm oil processing plant station by Wilmar - Balikpapan Bay 2013

Several large corporations, responsible for large-scale destruction of the rainforest in recent past, are beginning to commit to a new zero-deforestation policy. One of them is Wilmar, the biggest producer of palm oil, headquartered in Singapore, who signed the commitment to zero-deforestation on 5th December 2013 - a decision which earned them huge popularity.

However the recent case of Wilmar’s subsidiary, PT. Wilmar Nabati Indonesia (PT WINA), shows that the situation may not be as good as it appears. PT WINA, formerly PT Mekar Bumi Andalas (PT MBA), is already known for the destruction of the protected riverside and coastal mangrove forest in Berenga River (Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan, Indonesia) in 2007-2008.  This case of mangrove swamp conversion is under investigation by RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) and the case remains unresolved, thus preventing Wilmar from achieving certification of their products.

Now however, Wilmar proposes additional forest clearance within its 150 ha concession in Balikpapan Bay, which is located in a coastal forest of exceptionally high biodiversity and ecological values; the area represents an important habitat for proboscis monkeys and other endangered species. The plan to convert this ecosystem into a giant palm oil bulking and processing industrial complex is in a sharp contrast with Wilmar’s recently announced zero-deforestation policy. In this policy, Wilmar commits to immediately stop deforestation of any forests of High Conservation Value (HCV).

There is however indication that Wilmar may try to avoid the limitations imposed by their new policy by proposing that the forest to be converted is not one of High Conservation Value. A recent incident in Balikpapan supports this suspicion. On 28th January 2014, Wilmar organized a public consultation on the Environmental Impact Assessment and High Conservation Value Forest Assessment of the highly controversial project of palm oil bulking station and refinery, which is to be built in Balikpapan Bay.

The invitation letter was dated 24 January 2014 and it included a long list of conservation NGOs, such as WWF, TNC, BOS-F, WALHI/FoE, amongst other, as well as the University of Mulawarman and two foreign researchers.

However, the invitation to attend the meeting was not sent by Wilmar to most of the organizations, and only one of those listed received an official written invitation. A few more received a phone call but it was just one day before the meeting so too late for everybody to attend. This was even worsened by the fact that the venue (a school in a village Teluk Waru) was too difficult to access for most participants, therefore none of the conservationists were able to attend the public consultation.

On Tuesday, 11th January 2014, a total of 18 conservation NGOs and researchers responded to Wilmar with an official letter, in which they complain that a public meeting, which concerns such important environmental issues, must include the conservation NGOs. The organizations consider the public consultation held in 28th January to be invalid due to their absence, and require that Wilmar organizes the meeting once again and properly.

They require that the invitations must be sent in e-mail at least one week in advance, the venue needs to be better accessible and the participants need to receive written supporting materials together with the invitation.

The case of Balikpapan Bay became the first important test to Wilmar’s commitment to their new zero-deforestation policy, and will certainly not be the last. 

Therefore, organizations such as Greenpeace and The Forest Trust (TFT), which have been involved in signing Wilmar’s zero-deforestation policy, will be regularly updated about the ongoing development in Balikpapan Bay.

Stanislav Lhota, M.Sc., Ph.D.
Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague
Usti nad Labem Zoo
IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group