Activists in South Korea Rally Against Indonesian Rainforest Destruction by Korean Conglomerate POSCO Daewoo

Mighty Earth joined with The Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM), Korea’s largest environmental NGO, at a rally in Gwanghwamun North Square in Seoul, South Korea on Monday, July 31st, to demand that the Korean conglomerate POSCO Daewoo stop destroying Indonesian rainforest on its palm oil plantation in Papua.

Over a dozen activists participated in a street performance, in which they linked arms to defend the forest against a masked man holding a chainsaw representing POSCO Daewoo.  The activists held a banner that read, in both Korean and English, “POSCO Daewoo, Stop Destroying Indonesian Rainforest,” against a giant backdrop of palm oil-driven deforestation in Papua, Indonesia taken from Mighty Earth’s field investigation into Korindo and POSCO Daewoo in June 2016.

The rally followed a meeting between Mighty, KFEM and representatives from POSCO Daewoo that took place the previous business day.  At the meeting, Mighty and KFEM asked POSCO Daewoo to immediately stop their deforestation of pristine rainforest. POSCO Daewoo failed to make any specific commitments and instead said it needed to “study” the matter further despite several years of stakeholders urging an end to its deforestation.  

“POSCO Daewoo is trying to buy itself time to finish its forest clearing,” said Deborah Lapidus, Campaign Director at Mighty Earth.  “At the rate they are clearing, there will be no forest left by the time the company is done studying–and that’s surely their strategy.” Already, POSCO Daewoo’s bulldozers have cleared over 26,500 hectares of forest–half the size of Seoul, South Korea–in its 34,195 hectare concession.  What’s more, the pace of clearing has been accelerating; the company cleared 4,000 ha in the first four months of this year alone and over 10,000 ha since September 2015. Unconscionably, the international consulting firm PWC has given POSCO Daewoo’s deforestation a green stamp of approval. 

The land POSCO Daewoo is clearing to make way for its palm oil plantation, called PT Bio Inti Agrindo (PT BIA), is home to indigenous communities, as well as threatened and endangered species including tree kangaroos and birds of paradise.  According to BIA’s original business plans, obtained by Mighty, the entire area was covered by virgin rainforests prior to clearing.  The company estimated that it would make US$162 million just from selling the high value timber it cleared in the process of setting up the plantation.  The ancient rainforests being bulldozed by POSCO Daewoo are also incredibly carbon rich and essential to curbing global climate change.   

“Unfortunately, two Korean companies have established sprawling palm oil operations in Papua and are clearing forests at a vast scale,” said Ms. Lapidus to an assembled crowd of newspaper photographers and participants at Monday’s rally. “You might recall when we were here last year to expose Korindo’s forest destruction.  Right next to Korindo’s plantations is an immense zone of destruction that is owned by POSCO Daewoo, one of Korea’s premier companies. Despite the enormous ecological value of these areas, POSCO decided that it was happy to destroy them to create a giant monoculture plantation.  We are not seeing many companies act in such an egregious manner anymore but POSCO’s bulldozers are still operating.”  

Rally participants called on POSCO Daewoo to declare an immediate moratorium on all new forest clearing, to commit to a No Deforestation and No Exploitation policy aligned with the industry standard High Carbon Stock Approach, and to invest in restoration to repair its past damage.  

“POSCO Daewoo has done an incredible amount of damage in a short amount of time. It is undermining other companies’ progress on forest conservation and damaging its own brand and reputation around the world across its diverse businesses,” commented Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty Earth’s CEO, at the rally.  “All this deforestation is bad for its business.”

Just as POSCO Daewoo’s mill has become operational in the first quarter of 2017, the world’s largest palm oil buyers have stated they will exclude POSCO Daewoo and BIA’s palm oil from their supply chains because it violates their own No Deforestation and No Exploitation commitments.  

Investors are also pulling away from POSCO Daewoo over its deforestation.  The Norwegian Pension Fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, with more than $1 trillion in assets, commissioned an in-depth study into POSCO Daewoo’s activities, and found that the company’s practices were so egregious that they withdrew their investments in August 2015.  Hermes Investment has encouraged POSCO Daewoo to work with stakeholders to rapidly address this issue.  And POSCO Daewoo risks losing financing from several of its financial backers, including HSBC and BNP Paribas, which have both have announced No Deforestation financing policies.

Speaking at the rally, Choony Kim, Vice Executive Director of KFEM said, “Almost 7,700 hectares of tropical forests still remain on the site of POSCO Daewoo. In order for POSCO Daewoo to clean past mistakes and to compete fairly in the global market, it is necessary to immediately declare a moratorium on new land development in the remaining tropical forests. Also, efforts should be made to restore damaged forests and ecosystems.”