Last year Golden Agri Resources' (GAR) biggest claim to fame was being the palm oil arm of notorious forest destroyer Sinar Mas group, Indonesia's largest palm oil and pulp and paper supplier. This is the same company who lost their palm oil contract with Nestlé after the huge online outcry following the launch of our Kit Kat campaign.
Today Golden Agri is the first Indonesian palm oil company to make commitments that could end its involvement in the forest destruction for which the industry has become infamous.
Getting to this point would have been impossible without all the positive developments that have fueled a momentum building towards permanent protection of Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands – the crucial final step we must reach. This momentum has been driven by important research that exposed the role of the palm oil industry in the devastation of Indonesia's rainforests, the cancelling of major contracts with Golden Agri from palm oil buyers like Unilever, and more recently, Nestlé and Burger King, and of course - the unrelenting demand of individuals all over the world: stop forest destruction now.
Last year the backlash over Nestle's purchasing of palm oil coming from rainforest destruction, driven by amazing online supporters, was the push needed for the largest food and drink company in the world to cancel its contract with Golden Agri over its destructive practices. Now, not even one year later, Golden Agri has made commitments that show it too recognizes that the protection of Indonesian rainforests is good for business.
Today at a press conference in Jakarta Golden Agri pledged to stop clearing forest areas that are high in carbon, referred to as high carbon storage (HCS) forest, and renewed its commitments not to clear peatlands and forests of high conservation value, which are areas that are important for local livelihoods and as critical animal habitat. Golden Agri also announced its collaboration with The Forest Trust (TFT) to implement these commitments on the ground, the same non-profit group working with Nestlé on implementing its no deforestation commitments.
The destruction of Indonesia's carbon-rich rainforests and peatlands to make way for things like palm oil plantations is a huge source of carbon emissions, and Golden Agri's new carbon pledge, if properly implemented, could help tackle climate change and save large areas of forest. A commitment to stop this kind of destruction from a company of Golden Agri's size and influence within the palm oil industry could also be the spark that ignites a change in the operations of the entire industry.
While Golden Agri's 'on paper' commitments announced today are important, we'll be closely monitoring its next steps to ensure these commitments become real action that protects rainforests. In particular, we will be monitoring Golden Agri's commitment to not clearing forests which contain a high amount of carbon.
To achieve this commitment they have set a provisional threshold of 35 tonnes or more of carbon per hectare, forests above this threshold will not be cleared while they test this threshold figure. The higher the threshold of carbon, the more important it is for our climate that this carbon-rich land isn't destroyed.
Advisors to the Indonesian government already recommended this same threshold figure as part of a low-carbon development pathway for the country. These further steps towards forest and peatland protection are also an opportunity for the Indonesian government to insist on similar standards across all the industries operating in forest areas. A critical first step for the government would be to stop the issue of new licenses and conduct a review of already existing ones.
In what seems to indicate a severe hiccough in internal communication (or perhaps a severe lack of company cocktail mixers) within the Sinar Mas group - the group's pulp and paper arm, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), continues its rampant destruction of rainforests. While Golden Agri takes positive steps APP is busy gobbling up Indonesian forests, including areas critical to the survival of the endangered Sumatran tiger, while also making time for a healthy dose of greenwashing of its practices.
Now APP needs to hear the demands of people all over the world and feel the pressure from this amazing momentum that is building towards forest protection. APP must stop destroying Indonesian rainforests for pulp and paper.