Burning Issue: Indonesia Fires Put Palm Oil Under Scrutiny

October 1, 2019

A brutal Indonesian forest fire season that left Southeast Asia choking in smog has renewed scrutiny of major palm oil and paper companies, with activists accusing them of breaking promises to halt logging.

The monster blazes sent a pall of acrid smoke over the region for weeks, closing schools and airports and causing a spike in respiratory ailments.

Mostly lit to clear land for agriculture, they were the worst seen in the country since 2015.

Leading companies have in recent years pledged not to log any more pristine rainforest, not to use burning to clear land and to cut ties with smaller suppliers who don’t abide by their rules — but critics say such vows now ring hollow.

“They do not live up to the commitments, and are not addressing the fact that we are now in a climate crisis,” Annisa Rahmawati, a senior forest campaigner at Greenpeace, told AFP.

“They are still doing business as usual.”

Industry players however insist they have gone to great lengths to stop burning and trees being cut down in their operations.

Singapore-listed Wilmar International, the world’s biggest palm oil trader, committed in 2013 to a no-deforestation policy and says it has stopped sourcing from 17 suppliers that did not comply with their rules.

Production of Palm oil — used in numerous everyday goods from shampoo to biscuits — has been blamed by environmentalists for driving massive deforestation.

Consumer goods companies are paying more attention to where they source palm oil and other materials.

Some of the world’s largest brands — including Nestle and Unilever — pledged in 2010 to reach net zero deforestation within a decade through “responsible sourcing” of cattle, palm oil, soya and other commodities.

But after that pledge was signed, the pace of tree-felling linked to commodities increased dramatically and at least 50 million hectares (123 million acres) of forest worldwide has been destroyed Greenpeace said — an area about the size of Spain.

Fires are used as a cheap way to clear agricultural land in Indonesia every year during the dry season.

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