Following BBC Investigation, Global Certification Organization FSC Must Suspend Korindo and Reopen Investigation into Fires in its Palm Oil Concessions

By Mark Hays, Senior Campaigns Director, Mighty Earth

Today, the BBC published an in-depth investigation (the “Burning Scar“) into fires on Korindo palm oil concessions in Papua, Indonesia. The findings are disturbing: as the BBC’s report states, “according to a new investigation by the Forensic Architecture group at Goldsmiths University in London and Greenpeace International, published in conjunction with the BBC, there is evidence that indicates deliberate burning on the land during the land-clearing period. The investigation found evidence of fires on one of Korindo’s concessions over a period of years in patterns consistent with deliberate use” (emphasis added).

The BBC’s findings are supported by testimony from local landowners. In interviews with the BBC, these landowners told the organization that the company had set fires on the concessions over a period of years. For example, the BBC states: “a local farmer said he saw Korindo employees collecting leftover wood, ‘the worthless stuff’. They piled up long rows, maybe 100-200 metres long, and then they poured petrol over it and then lit them.”

These findings reinforce Mighty Earth’s Burning Paradise report, released in September 2016. Yet, on its website, Korindo continues to deny its use of fires, stating that it “has never used and will never use fire to clear land in any of its operations.”

As described in the BBC story, a 2018 report by an independent Complaint Panel appointed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a global certification body for responsible forest management, found that Korindo Group had significantly violated the FSC’s policies on deforestation and human rights during the period 2013-2017. The Panel concluded that there were “strong and sufficient grounds for the disassociation of all the companies associated with these serious violations.”

Despite these conclusions, and two supplementary investigations that made similar findings, in June 2019 the FSC decided to maintain its relationship with Korindo on the condition that Korindo adopt improvement measures. The versions of the investigation ultimately released to the public were heavily censored by the FSC after receiving legal threats from Korindo, including the delivery of a “cease and desist” letter, according to an email Mighty Earth received from the FSC.

At the time, the FSC Complaint Panel said they were unable to find sufficient evidence to confirm the deliberate use of fires. Now, in light of the new facts and analysis in the BBC investigation, Mighty Earth calls upon the FSC to reopen its investigation into the allegations that Korindo deliberately used fire in its oil palm concessions.

FSC has also inexcusably sat on its hands for over a year on initiating the stakeholder process to determine how Korindo is going to compensate and remediate for its liabilities on deforestation and human rights violations, leaving impacted communities in the dark. FSC must act with urgency to conduct a fair and transparent process, rapidly deliver remedy long overdue, and re-evaluate its decision not to suspend Korindo.

Watch Forensic Architecture’s short film on the investigation: