Palm Oil

Korindo Goes Back on No-Deforestation Pledge

Campaign Director Deborah Lapidus was on Australian network ABC today speaking about Korindo's devastating impact on West Papua.

See the full clip here.

Satellite Data Shows Korindo Violates Deforestation Moratorium

This post was updated on February 16, 2017 at 4:30pm to include Korindo's response.

Through ongoing satellite monitoring, Mighty has discovered that agribusiness Korindo has violated its moratorium on new land development announced for all of its palm oil operations. Korindo announced its moratorium on December 1, 2016 but satellite images, pictured below, taken on December 13, 2016, January 12, 2017, and February 10, 2017 show that Korindo clearly violated its commitments. Weeks after its moratorium, Korindo’s PT Papua Agro Lestari concession in the Indonesian island of Papua carved out plantation “blocks” on approximately 1,400 hectares of forest, an activity also known as “stacking”, which is the final step of land development prior to forest clearing. You can see the same lines of the plantation blocks in the brown area which has already been cleared.

In response to this evidence, Korindo wrote us that they had lifted the moratorium after conducting conservation assessments even though those assessments had not gone through quality review. Because of serious concerns about the credibility of their chosen assessor, the need for these assessments to undergo quality review before development was a primary topic of conversation in a meeting between Mighty and Papuan civil society groups and Korindo in Jakarta in January.

“When we met with Korindo in Jakarta three weeks ago they assured us that they were adhering to their moratorium and committed to the High Carbon Stock Approach, which doesn’t allow for deforestation. Yet, at the same time, Korindo’s bulldozers were getting ready to clear a huge area of forest,” said Deborah Lapidus, Mighty Campaign Director. “We are very disappointed at Korindo’s duplicity, and urge them to immediately halt all further development. Because of its lies Korindo is losing what little credibility it had, and serious scrutiny is needed: their sustainability assessments must be approved by the industry’s quality review panels before Korindo commences any further development.”

Korindo’s PT PAL concession. The new lines that appear on the two images on right are plantation blocks that Korindo has carved in the forest in the last two months, the final step prior to forest clearing. The plantation blocks on the image from Jan 13th cover 1,400 hectares, and by February 10th, 2,400 hectares.

Mighty will share this news with Korindo’s current and former customers and urge them to maintain suspensions of purchases from Korindo.  Pulp and paper giant APRIL, which represents a substantial volume of Korindo’s wood products business, recently told Mighty it has decided not to renew its contract with Korindo because of its non-compliance with APRIL’s No Deforestation and No Exploitation policy. As we announced previously, Korindo has already lost palm oil business from Wilmar, Musim Mas, ADM, IOI and dozens of major brand companies said they would ensure Korindo was excluded from their supply chains.

Korindo’s PT Papua Agro Lestari plantation © Mighty, 4 June 2016; Latitude 6°45'41.80"S, Longitude 140°48'18.78"E.

Korindo also sells wind towers to major wind energy companies such as Siemens, Gamesa, Nordex, and Iberdrola. In October, Mighty sent letters to these companies asking that they end their business with Korindo due to Korindo’s environmental destruction and major contribution to climate change, which is counter to the mission of clean energy deployment. A positive response from these customers seems to have helped convince Korindo to announce its forest clearing moratorium, but unfortunately, the progress was short-lived.

“Korindo’s wind energy customers made their desire for Korindo to become environmentally responsible loud and clear, but Korindo did not deliver.  Now it’s high time for these companies to end their contracts in order to preserve the integrity of their mission to mitigate climate change and their commitments to maintain responsible supply chains,” said Lapidus.

POSCO Daewoo getting ready to clear 4,000 hectares of forest

At the same time as Korindo was busy preparing for its next round of destruction despite all its promises, its neighbor in Papua, the Korean multi-industy company POSCO Daewoo, was doing just the same at its PT Bio Inti Agrindo (PT BIA) concession. Satellite imagery shows that in the last month POSCO Daewoo has drawn plantation blocks over nearly 4,000 hectares of forest in the eastern part of its concession, which will imminently be cleared unless Posco Daewoo’s buyers, investors, and bankers intervene right away. This is the area in brown in the satellite image below.

The brown is a forested area of 4,000 hectares that POSCO Daewoo is getting ready to clear, as indicated by the plantation blocks they have carved into the forest.

In total, POSCO Daewoo has cleared 7,500 hectares of forest at PT BIA between September 2015 and December 2016, 4,300 of which was just in the last half of 2016. (See satellite images below.) POSCO Daewoo’s ongoing destruction of Indonesia’s last intact forests has been exposed in several recent reports and investigations including those conducted by Greenpeace and Mighty, and has resulted in it losing investment from the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, the Norwegian Pension Fund. Yet, it continues business-as-usual deforestation.

POSCO Daewoo’s PT BIA: The area outlined in red was forested land cleared between Sept. 2015 (pictured on left) and Dec. 2016 (pictured on right), totaling 7,500 hectares.

“Korean companies think they can get away with deforestation in remote areas of Indonesia without being held accountable, but we want to let them know that the world is watching and Korean citizens are demanding action,” said Choony Kim, International Cooperation Coordinator with the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements. “These companies are bringing shame on themselves and they risk tarnishing the reputation of Korean industry.”

POSCO Daewoo’s PT BIA concession © Mighty; 5 June 2016.


Samling's Forest Crime Spree Moves to Myanmar

A coalition of Burmese civil society groups recently published a report regarding Samling Group’s palm oil operations in Myanmar. The report details land grabs, indigenous rights violations, and environmental problems, including pollution of local water sources and clear-cutting high conservation forests (HCV) inside a proposed national park that is home to endangered tigers. These environmental and human rights problems in Myanmar can all be traced back to Samling Group, a Malaysian conglomerate headquartered in Sarawak. This influential company has about 20,000 employees, is run by one of the 40 richest people in Malaysia, creates a market for deforestation palm oil at a time when most of the industry is heading in the opposite direction, and is a supplier to many leading companies around the world. For these reasons, and because of its long track record of abuse, Samling merits a closer look.

Women and children protesting the MSPP concession © Environmental Investigation Agency

Samling’s MSPP project is located in an area with a history of violence and human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of confusion that Samling has manipulated for financial gain. For over 60 years, the region was plagued by civil war between the Karen National Union and the central Government. Between 1997 and 2007, the Myanmar Army committed human rights violations including rape, torture, and arbitrary killings of civilians as well as looting, destruction of property, and forced labor in the MSPP area. A 2012 ceasefire agreement opened these civil war zones to foreign investment, establishing mixed administration by KNU and the Myanmar Government, such that both governments can now shift blame for MSPP’s oil palm plantation’s impacts. According to the Burmese civil society report, MSPP’s concession overlaps with 38,900 acres of community and agricultural lands incorrectly classified by the central Government as ‘vacant land’, including HVC forest that is home to tigers and approximately 4,480 Karen indigenous people. Families’ crops and orchards have been cleared, villagers indebted, and chemical run-off from MSPP’s palm oil plantations has polluted local water sources – all without fair compensation for villagers by MSPP and without Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. MSPP’s abuses illustrate high risks of investment in conflict areas in Myanmar.

How does Samling fit in? See the broader picture of the Burmese palm oil project's corporate structure above. © Environmental Investigation Agency

These abuses are par for the course. Samling and its subsidiary Glenealy already have a documented and abysmal track record of human rights abuses against indigenous people, environmental crimes, and illegal activities that spans decades.

Brief compendium of earlier reports of Samling abuses

We believe Samling should immediately stop MSPP’s current operations, compensate villagers for all past harms, restore an area at least equivalent to what it has destroyed, and obey the law of the land. Samling must meet the industry benchmark for responsible production by immediately announcing a comprehensive cross-commodity No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation policy in adherence with the HCSA methodology for its operations and supply chain.

Should Samling not agree to these steps, Maybank should divest from Samling. All Maybank investors should require immediate action by Maybank to divest from companies driving deforestation, peatland clearance, and human rights abuse, including Samling and its subsidiaries.  (Maybank is also likely financing rogue palm oil trader Sunfield Global, who is buying from Sarawak peatland destroyer BLD/Kirana.) According to the recent Burmese civil society report investors in Maybank include the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, PGGM (Netherlands), British Columbia Investment Management (Canada, APG Asset Management (Netherlands), TIAA Global Management (United States), CPP Investment Board (Canada), Forsta AP-Fonden (Sweden), Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec (Canada), and AMF Pensions for sakring (Sweden).

Featured image from a_rabin.

Newly Released Guidance Aims to Improve Transparency in the Palm Oil Industry

Ceres, Oxfam, Rainforest Alliance, CDP, and Rainforest Action Network Among over 18 Groups Releasing New Guidance

BOSTON (January 24, 2017)— With rainforest destruction and forced labor urgent concerns in palm oil cultivation, a diverse group of NGOs and investor organizations releases today shared guidance for corporate reporting on company commitments towards responsible palm oil sourcing and production.

Collaboratively developed by over 18 organizations (see list below) with input from companies, the guidance document aims to inform corporate reporting and supply chain engagement. The diverse group, which encompasses a range of perspectives on the palm oil challenge, came together to develop the guidance to create consistency and clarity for companies in the palm oil value chain on reporting.

“Numerous companies are putting resources towards sustainable palm oil; yet, deforestation, land conflicts, and labor issues persist,” said Noah Klein-Markman at Ceres. “Transparency on supply chain practices is critical for all stakeholders – investors, civil society groups, and businesses - to understand and address the implementation gap.”

Palm oil is the world’s most abundant vegetable oil and a common ingredient in food and household products. In Indonesia, where nearly half of the world’s palm oil is produced, forests and carbon-rich peat lands are being cleared faster than any tropical nation, accounting for as much as much as 79 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas footprint.  Much of this impact is caused by the expansion of the palm oil industry.  Forced and child labor, as well as land rights violations are also widespread in the industry.

Many companies are actively working to address these issues and are beginning to communicate progress to a wide range of stakeholders.

“M&S recognizes the value of transparency as part of supply chain management and is working with industry partners to measure and compare performance of Growers, Processors and Traders in our supply chain,” said Fiona Wheatley of Marks and Spencers, a British retailer. “This document guides companies towards reporting that is most meaningful and material to a wide range of stakeholders and contributes towards our collective goal of making palm oil production sustainable and deforestation free.”

The guidance document offers recommendations for growers, processors and traders; manufacturers; and retailers. It covers topics including supply chain transparency, effective grievance processes, forced labor, smallholder engagement, and responsible land expansion.

“Oxfam is concerned about the palm oil industry’s record on human rights and environmental protection, and believes that companies have an obligation and an opportunity to address these issues. Corporate actions and commitments must go hand in hand with meaningful transparency in order to facilitate implementation. We hope this guidance spurs greater transparency in the sector, ultimately contributing to sector transformation,” said Aditi Sen, a Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam.

“The razing of rainforests and prevalent use of child labor in the palm oil sector create regulatory risks and hinder companies’ social license to operate, which can threaten access to raw materials, production, and overall brand equity. Companies need to be transparent about how they are managing these risks so that we, as investors, can identify and measure them effectively,” said Kate Kroll, Shareholder Advocate at Green Century Capital Management said.

Companies are encouraged to report the information outlined in the guidance document through existing vehicles, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil (RSPO) Annual Communication on Progress, CDP, or sustainability reports and dashboards.

Download the reporting guidance document here.


The document was collaboratively developed by the following organizations:

Ceres (coordinator)
The Consensus Building Institute (facilitator)
Conservation International
Forest Heroes
Forest Trends
Global Forest Watch
Green Century Capital Management
Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility
International Labor Rights Forum
The Packard Foundation
Rainforest Action Network
Rainforest Alliance
Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment
Union of Concerned Scientists
Zoological Society of London

About Ceres

Ceres is a non-profit organization that is mobilizing many of the world’s largest companies and investors to take stronger action on climate change, water scarcity and other global sustainability challenges. Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, a group of 120 institutional investors managing about $15 trillion assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change and water scarcity. Ceres also engages with 100-plus companies, many of them Fortune 500 businesses, committed to sustainable business practices and the urgency for strong climate and clean energy policies. For more information, visit or follow on Twitter @CeresNews.

Korindo Announces Moratorium on Forest Clearing for Palm Oil Concessions But Critical Questions Remain

Korindo has recently taken the positive step of announcing land clearing moratoria for all of its palm oil operations, following discussions with its global customers. On December 1st, Korindo’s subsidiaries PT Papua Agro Lestari (PT PAL) and PT Gelora Mandiri Membangun (PT GMM) announced in Indonesian newspapers a moratorium on new land development until they finalize High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) studies. Korindo states that the moratorium will apply to the undeveloped areas of both concessions, which total 36,000 ha in PT PAL and 4,500 ha in PT GMM. This follows an announcement by Korindo’s PT Tunas Sawaerma in November that it is placing a moratorium on new land development for its three subsidiaries. Korindo also stated in a letter to Mighty that it has applied for membership to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)- an industry certification body that requires a base level of environmental protections and some transparency, but still does not prevent deforestation.

This is a very welcome development that, if implemented, buys time for the 75,000 hectares a of forests remaining in Korindo’s palm oil concessions. However, critical questions remain about how Korindo plans to enforce and independently verify adherence to its moratorium, whether it will use credible HCV and HCS assessors, and whether it will adopt the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA), widely regarded as the industry standard for assessing responsible land development. Furthermore, Korindo continues to lack transparency, which makes it impossible to know whether it is following through on its commitments. Rather than its current piecemeal approach, Korindo should codify its commitments into a comprehensive group-level, cross-commodity policy, developed through stakeholder engagement.

Importantly, Korindo has not expanded these commitments to its extensive plywood and logging operations, which are known to have been damaging on a vast scale. Despite misleading claims that its wood products business is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), in reality, only one of its seven logging and timber concessions is certified, and that certification was suspended from November 2015 to February 2016 due to illegal fires on the concession. Indeed, the extent of Korindo’s deforestation over the past five years would put it in violation of its commitments to the FSC.

Even if Korindo follows through on the moratorium, critical issues remain in its palm oil production. It has yet to cease operations on the customary lands of local communities in North Maluku and to return those lands to the community or resolve its conflicts with community groups in Papua. It has failed to issue a public grievance procedure, develop comprehensive policies on human rights, labor rights, or clarify if and how it will respect the right of local communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to development on their land.  Furthermore, Korindo has not addressed its legacy of serious environmental harm by investing in extensive restoration.

We urge Korindo to build on these initial steps by immediately taking these additional essential actions, as delineated in the recommendations in the Burning Paradise report. In the meantime, we are continuing our campaign.  Buyers and investors should be aware that Korindo is still far from meeting the benchmark for responsible production and that doing business with Korindo still entails a high risk of exposure to deforestation in their supply chains. But with strict adherence to the moratorium and a rapid adoption of these recommendations, Korindo has a chance to reverse course on the egregious issues in its operations. Mighty and our allies will be meeting with Korindo at the end of the month.

KFEM and Wahli Stand in Solidarity Against Deforestation

Activists from the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM) and Wahli (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) held a solidarity action late last month in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia against deforestation by agribusiness giant Korindo. The activists were in town for the Friends of the Earth Biennial Grand Meeting and gathered supporters from 13 countries including Nepal, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Australia, and the Philippines to protest Korindo’s massive forest clearance for palm oil plantations in Papua, Indonesia. Since Mighty and KFEM released the “Burning Paradise” report detailing Korindo’s large-scale deforestation of over 50,000 hectares of forests and systematic forest fires in early September, there has been growing focus on the issue internationally.

Read more about the recent action in Korean news outlets from NGO News, The Eco-Journal, and HKBS.

Olam's Newfound Transparency Constructive But It's Not Ready to Put Down the Chainsaws

Earlier today, Olam held a teleconference for reporters and issued a response to our report in which it acknowledges extensive deforestation in Gabon, but also responded to the actions suggested in the report by revealing its third party suppliers, and saying that it would apply its policies to them immediately.

We are happy that Olam has responded with these constructive moves. Today, Olam has cracked open its black box to the light of day.

We will be discussing information we have about the newly published suppliers with Olam in due course. However, some of the suppliers that Olam listed have been reported already in the public domain as having significant links to deforestation and human rights abuses, providing ample evidence for Olam to act on these irresponsible suppliers immediately. Details on some of the suppliers are below:

Sarawak Oil Palms:



In addition, important questions remain about Olam’s sourcing, such as:

  • How are they defining their “No Deforestation” requirement for their suppliers- according to the HCSA industry standard or their self-invented looser definition that still permits deforestation?
  • Will they reveal their mill locations on Global Forest Watch and be transparent about their risk assessment process, as their peers have done?
  • Will they extend their No Deforestation, No Burning, No Peat, and No Exploitation sourcing standards to all their commodities around the globe, such as rubber, cocoa, sugar, and others? Olam is reputedly the #1 or #2 for cocoa, coffee, cotton, rice, and more. If it changes across all its commodities, this would be a major step forward for the planet.

In its statement, Olam says it has cleared 25,735 ha of forests in Gabon, which was higher than our conservative estimates. Olam claims that this was “heavily logged over or degraded forest,” but our videos from Brainforest’s undercover investigation revealed beautiful, massive, ancient trees being bulldozed, chainsawed, and cleared to make way for Olam’s plantation development.  A majority of Olam’s competitors would be protecting such trees and forests based on their No Deforestation commitments. Moreover, today Olam is claiming that the forests they have cleared are "highly logged and degraded secondary forests." Yet, it appears that in Olam’s own documents, it previously classified up to 9,000 ha of the forest they have cleared as ‘relatively undisturbed or lightly logged’(see page 50 of the technical report).

Olam justifies its deforestation by arguing that the definition of deforestation should be more lenient in a heavily forested landscape like Gabon than in Indonesia, where forests are highly fragmented, without recognizing the irony that Indonesia was once too covered with rainforests until companies logged, bulldozed, and burned 30,000 square kilometers of it over the past four decades. Now, in areas like Sumatra and Malaysian Borneo only 20-30% of the forests remain. We have a chance to stop history from repeating itself in Gabon and throughout Africa. Olam, as the company establishing the largest palm oil operation in Africa, has the opportunity to set a different example.

Olam tries to justify its deforestation by arguing that high forest countries like Gabon need the monoculture plantations that have caused so much destruction in Southeast Asia. It is exactly the world’s last remaining large intact forests that should be the priority for conservation. Instead, Olam should focus its development on Africa’s 48 million hectares of degraded land, where agriculture can be expanded without threatening forests and wildlife.  Olam’s monoculture plantation development threatens to leave leave local communities dependent on large, foreign multinational corporations without forests for subsistence.

There is also significant opportunity to engage donor governments in providing financial incentives for forest conservation and smallholder agricultural development in Gabon. For instance, Liberia recently announced an agreement with Norway to provide financial support hand in hand with conservation measures. Moreover, let’s not forget that Gabon has enormous, and virtually untapped potential for ecotourism – we have only to look at the success of Rwanda’s gorilla tourism to see that Gabon could make more money off saving its forests than by razing them.

Featured photo taken from footage from Mighty partner Brainforest's field investigation.

New Report Identifies Secret Market for Deforestation-Linked Palm Oil

Palm Oil

Investigation shows how Olam, owned by Singapores national wealth fund, is driving rainforest destruction from Gabon to Indonesia

PARIS (December 12, 2016) – A new report released today by Mighty and Gabon-based NGO Brainforest reveals that Olam, one of the world’s leading agribusiness traders, is operating a secretive palm oil trading operation. It finds that Olam is creating a market for deforestation-linked palm oil, and then funneling it to  some of the world’s best known brands that have touted their own strong sustainability policies. Olam is majority owned by Singapore’s national wealth fund, Temasek.

Read a summary of the report here, and view the accompanying video below. The full technical report is available here.

“Olam is operating a giant ‘black box’ of palm oil from unknown sources,” said Etelle Higonnet, Campaign and Legal Director at Mighty. “Unlike its more responsible competitors, Olam gives its suppliers until 2020 to comply with its sustainability requirements.  That’s like waving a green flag at rogue palm oil companies telling them to get as much deforestation as possible done now–before the deadline.”

The videos featured in the report show Olam bulldozing Gabonese rainforests to establish Africa’s largest palm oil plantation.  Gabon is 80% forested, and abundant in wildlife such as gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and forest elephants. The analysis found that Olam cleared approximately 20,000 hectares of forest across its four concessions since 2012.  Photos and videos collected on the ground reveal large areas of devastated forest and giant mature trees being cut down by bulldozers and chainsaws.

“Olam broadcasts that it is a sustainability leader to the world, but that is far from the reality in Gabon,” said Marc Ona Essangui, founder of the environmental NGO Brainforest and Goldman Award Winner. “After fighting for years, we hope this report will finally spur action by Olam to truly adopt industry best practices to protect the forest homes of our communities and precious wildlife.”

The extent of deforestation documented would put Olam in violation of its commitments to the Forest Stewardship Council. Olam, whose customers include global brands such as PepsiCo, ConAgra, Unilever, Mondelez, and Nestlé, is part of a larger trend of Southeast Asian palm oil companies expanding to Africa, where there is less scrutiny and more land, and bringing the industry’s old business model of rainforest destruction and human rights abuse along with them.

Mighty’s investigation showed that over the past four years, Olam has expanded its global palm oil business twenty-fold, rising from a marginal position to control 2.5% of all total global palm oil trade. However, this increased influence has not brought increased transparency. Olam fails to reveal the third party suppliers that provide over 99% of its palm oil. Less than 1% of Olam’s palm oil comes from its own plantations.   Olam’s lack of transparency is in sharp contrast to the other major traders in the industry like Wilmar International, Musim Mas, and Golden Agri-Resources, all of which identify third party suppliers and palm oil mill locations.

Temasek, a S$242 billion ($180 billion USD) investment fund owned by the Government of Singapore, is the majority shareholder of Olam, which has become a major buyer (250,000t in 2016) of Indonesian palm oil. Unsustainable palm oil production in Indonesia caused rampant forest fires, leading to thick haze that blanketed the entire Southeast Asian region in 2015. Singapore was particularly affected by the haze. Schools were closed, flights were cancelled, and tens of thousands sought medical attention. An estimated 2,200 premature deaths occurred in the nation as a result. Ironically, through Temasek’s investments in Olam, the people of Singapore have unwittingly financed what is likely one of the world’s largest “black boxes” for the kind of unsustainably produced palm oil that led to this haze crisis.

See the FSC complaint with regard to Olam’s deforestation for palm oil.

See the memo accompanying the FSC complaint about possible Olam deforestation for rubber in Northern Gabon. (See here for the memo in French.)

About Mighty: Mighty is a global environmental campaign organization that works to protect forests, conserve oceans, and address climate change.

About Brainforest: Brainforest is a Gabonese NGO working on forest conservation, environmental protection, and promoting local and indigenous community consultation.

UPDATE: Read Olam’s response here.

UPDATE: In one day, the report has earned significant media coverage, including in the Financial Times, BBC, and Eco-Business. Listen to CEO Glenn Hurowitz’s interview on BBC here.

Mighty CEO Glenn Hurowitz on BBC preparing to discuss the findings of the new report.

Marisa Bellantonio
[email protected]

Featured photo of Olam palm oil plantation, Ngounié, Gabon, March 2014.

Korindo Subsidiary’s New ‘Sustainability’ Commitments Fail to Deliver Meaningful Change

UPDATE (12/16/16): On December 1st, Korindo’s subsidiaries PT Papua Agro Lestari (PT PAL) and PT Gelora Mandiri Membangun (PT GMM) announced a moratorium on new land development until they finalize High Conservation Value and High Carbon Stock studies. Korindo states that the moratorium will apply to the undeveloped areas of both concessions, which total 36,000 ha in PT PAL and 4,500 ha in PT GMM.  This follows an announcement by Korindo’s PT Tunas Sawaerma in November that it is placing a moratorium on new land development for its three subsidiaries (see below).  This means that now Korindo has announced land clearing moratoriums for all of its palm oil subsidiaries.  Korindo also stated in a letter to Mighty that it has applied for membership to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry certification body that requires a base level of environmental protections and some transparency, but still does not prevent deforestation.

This is a very welcome development that, if implemented, buys the 75,000 ha of forests remaining in Korindo’s palm oil concessions some time. However, serious questions remain about how Korindo plans to enforce and independently verify adherence to its moratorium, whether it will use credible HCV and HCS assessors, and whether it will adopt the industry standard High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA).  Korindo continues to lack transparency, which makes it impossible to know whether it is following through on its commitments.  Rather than its current piecemeal approach, Korindo should codify its commitments into a comprehensive group-level, cross-commodity policy, developed through stakeholder engagement.

Additionally, Korindo has yet to expand these commitments to its extensive plywood and logging operations, which are known to cause equally devastating ecological impacts. Despite misleading claims that its wood products business is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), in reality, only one of its seven logging and timber concessions is certified, and that certification was suspended for three months from November 2015 to February 2016 due to illegal fires on the concession. Indeed, the extent of Korindo’s deforestation over the past five years would put it in violation of its commitments to the FSC.

Korindo also has yet to seize operating on the customary lands of local communities in North Maluku, and to return those lands to the community, or to resolve its conflicts with community groups in Papua.  It has yet to issue a public grievance procedure, or to develop comprehensive policies on human rights, labor rights, or clarity on if and how it will respect the right of local communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to development on their land.  Furthermore, Korindo has yet to address its legacy of serious environmental harm by investing in extensive restoration.

We urge Korindo to build on these initial steps by taking these additional essential actions, as delineated in our recommendations to Korindo in our report.  Until then, Mighty and our allies will continue the campaign on Korindo.  Buyers and investors should be aware that Korindo is still far from meeting the benchmark for responsible production and doing business with Korindo still entails a high risk of being associated with deforestation.

In the wake of mounting pressure from its customers, heavy exposure of its forest destruction in international media, and the threat of an Indonesian government investigation, Korindo’s subsidiary PT. Tunas Sawaerma Group (PT. TSE) announced a moratorium on new land development on November 10th.

For the sake of the 44,600 hectares of forest remaining in the concessions covered by the moratorium, we at Mighty hope that Korindo follows through on this commitment. But even if it does cease deforestation in these areas, Korindo needs to take many other actions before being considered responsible. Their announcement lacks substance, scope and detail, leading us to believe that it is meant to provide the appearance of action while largely perpetuating business as usual.

The first glaring problem with this moratorium is that it was only announced by one arm of Korindo’s palm oil business covering three subsidiaries. This group represents Korindo’s more mature plantations where significant clearing has already taken place. The moratorium notably does not cover two other Korindo palm oil subsidiaries—PT Papua Agro Lestari (PT PAL) and PT Gelora Mandiri Membangun (PT GMM)—which together amount to 30,400 hectares of remaining forest that Korindo has been actively clearing. (To read more on this, and about the serious community land rights violations committed by Korindo on PT GMM, check out our report). Furthermore, Korindo operates logging concessions in both West Papua and Kalimantan, which also are causing significant forest loss—even Korindo’s own promotional video for its plywood business shows it proudly clearing ancient forest. In short, as long as Korindo is clearing forest in any part of its operations, it cannot be considered an environmentally responsible company.

Secondly, PT. TSE uses the terms “High Carbon Stock”, “High Conservation Value”, and “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” as empty catch phrases, failing to explicitly define these terms, specify which independent assessors they are using, or commit to making the assessments publicly available. PT. TSE is notably not saying it is committed to the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA), widely regarded as the only credible methodology for assessing responsible land expansion that takes into account protection of forests, high carbon landscapes, biodiversity and ensuring the right of local communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). The vast majority of companies who have adopted “No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation” policies are committed to applying the HCSA methodology.

Third, PT. TSE fails to include contested lands in its moratorium, does not specify how it will resolve land rights disputes with local communities, and does not have a public grievance procedure for handling complaints by local communities, workers, or civil society, as do many other leading companies.

It is impossible to even evaluate PT. TSE’s compliance through Korindo’s general shroud of secrecy. Korindo is not a public company and it does not participate in any forum that requires public filings—it isn’t even one of the 3,000+ members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a minimum sustainability standard that companies committed to No Deforestation have surpassed.

Korindo also fails to make any pledges regarding restoration of land it has already destroyed. The agribusiness has destroyed 50,000 hectares of forest to make way for palm oil plantations and the majority of this clearing occurred in the three subsidiaries covered by the moratorium. Yet, neither Korindo Group as a whole nor its PT. TSE Group subsidiary has made any commitments to restore these forests.

Korindo remains an irresponsible supplier, and hasn’t yet signaled any real openness to change. We hope they are open to discussions about real reform, but we haven’t seen any signs yet that they are.

The featured image shows the border between Korindo's PT Tunas Sawaerma palm oil plantation and the forest. Boven Digoel Distict, Papua, June 2016. Credit: Mighty.

This Small Change Is Big News for the World’s Forests

If you’re a forest wonk and have been paying attention to the nitty-gritty (but crucial) details of company “No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation” policies, you probably noticed that many of them contained a footnote next to the commitment to protect High Carbon Stock forest.  For many of us civil society groups negotiating these policies, that footnote determined the credibility of the commitment: whether the company was agreeing to a strong NGO-backed standard that protected all forests and had clear integration of community rights and biodiversity habitat protection (called the High Carbon Stock Approach, or HCSA), or a weak standard driven by industry laggards that had significant loopholes allowing for continued deforestation and that prioritized carbon above other social and ecological values (what they called HCS+ and we called HCS-).  For far too long, some companies used the debate as an excuse to delay implementation of forest protection altogether.  Our worry was that by the time the discussions were over, the forests would be gone.

hcs-grapnicBut now it’s time to breathe a big sigh of relief that the light at the end of the tunnel is near. The two groups today announced an agreement that will bring all the standards together, following a year-long convergence process. Hurrah!

We’ll spare you the technical details, but for those who wish to know more, you can take a look at the agreement statement here and organizations’ and companies’ joint press release here. Companies and organizations reaching this agreement include major palm oil traders like Musim Mas, Wilmar, GAR, Cargill, IOI, and Sime Darby as well as civil society groups including Rainforest Action Network, Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, and others. We commend the convergence team for their achievement in working through so many thorny and complex issues and being able to come together today as one, for the sake of forests and communities.

Now, time and energy can be focused on the real work of implementation, and making sure more sectors at risk of deforestation, like rubber, soy, and cattle, are brought into the process.  And companies who took advantage of the debate to delay forest protection are out of excuses.

That this announcement happened as part of a separate side meeting, but not within the auspices of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) annual meeting, is significant.  The RSPO was intended to be the forum for exactly these kinds of deliberations. But because of its consensus-oriented model, the RSPO has gotten bogged down in technical and political debates even as the world moves on.  Other platforms like HCSA have been able to achieve more forest conservation in much less time. Let’s hope that the converged methodology can set an example for RSPO of what is possible when the bar is set high and there is a sense of urgency.  Perhaps by the next annual meeting, the RSPO members will adopt this standard for HCS forest protection into the RSPO criteria.  That would not only be great for forests, but would end marketplace confusion, restore RSPO’s legitimacy, and provide clear directive to companies and assessors.

Letter to Wind Companies: Drop Korindo

"We are writing to you today to ask that you join these companies in ending your business with Korindo until it ends its deforestation, returns customary lands to local communities, and resolves its serious legal issues."

Korindo owns a company called KOUSA, which is based in Los Angeles, California. The firm sells wind towers to large companies like Siemens, Nordex, Suzlon, Iberdrola and Gamesa. Unfortunately, the benefits to the climate of the wind energy that these towers generate are eclipsed by the extreme toll that Korindo’s deforestation and burning takes on the environment. By sourcing from Korindo, these wind towers are helping finance deforestation, making this normally clean energy source dirty in this case. For these wind companies to be able sell truly clean energy, they should immediately cease purchases from Korindo, and turn to the many companies that manufacture wind turbines without deforestation.

Together with an international coalition of civil society organizations, we sent letters asking them to do just that. View the letters below:






UPDATE: Gamesa, Siemens and Nordex have all responded that they are looking into the matter and have contacted KoUSA. Other leading wind companies Clipper and Vestas have confirmed that they are not current customers of Korindo, contrary to Korindo's own marketing materials.

Featured photo is a screenshot from a Korindo promotional video.

Extensive Satellite, Video, Photographic Evidence Shows Korindo’s Systematic Use of Fire

Bahasa Version

“This information is valuable for our internal discussion. About the fire, it is true, so what do we want to argue,” said Luwy, a Korindo’s field technical staff who came with his friend to the report release. – Kompas, September 2, 2016.

Although a member of Korindo’s field technical staff admitted at a press event that his company does indeed use illegal fires to clear land for its oil palm plantations, related in the September 2nd issue of Kompas, the Korindo corporation now publicly asserts that it does not use this dangerous practice. However, extensive satellite, drone, and field research reveals comprehensive evidence to the contrary.

korindo in the hot seatAccording to a report by the research group AidEnvironment, satellite images show that Korindo’s systematic use of fires closely mirrors its land clearing process. Korindo uses the fires to quickly and cheaply clear the biomass lying on the ground after it has deforested, to prepare the ground for planting palm oil.  As seen by satellite in concession after concession, hotspot locations followed Korindo’s land development, and continued to appear in a predictable pattern in the newest areas that Korindo had recently cleared for its plantations. This clear pattern means that the fires could not have been natural or set by local communities for hunting, as Korindo argues, given that the affected areas shift year by year and directly follow Korindo’s activities.

Below is just a small sampling of evidence of Korindo’s deforestation and burning for palm oil (for more information, see the full report).

PT Donghin Prabhawa Concessions

In total, 351 hotspots were recorded in PT DP, spread throughout the period 2013-2015 (43 in 2013, 144 in 2014 and 164 in 2015). The fires typically followed a few months after deforestation, making it clear that Korindo used the fires to clear the biomass from the land to get it ready for planting. Note that there were almost no fires in the forested area surrounding the plantation development, and also no fires in the areas that were already planted with oil palm. This shows that fires occurred during the land clearing process.

The images below show the recorded hotspots in 2013, 2014 and 2015, each overlaid with a satellite image of their respective years. The lighter green areas are the sections where land clearing had recently occurred as Korindo expanded its plantation.

August 19-21, 2013. There were 43 hotspots recorded in Korindo’s PT DP in 2013. Landsat 8 imagery.

October 24 – November 1, 2014. There were 144 hotspots recorded in Korindo’s PT DP in 2014. Landsat 8 imagery.

June 16-26, 2015. There were 164 hotspots recorded in Korindo’s PT DP in 2015. Landsat 8 imagery. Sources: FIRMS, Fire Information for Resource Management System,

PT Tunas Sawa Erma 1B Concessions

Korindo subsidiary PT Tunas Sawa Erma 1B (PT TSE 1B), which holds an area of 19,000 hectares, began work in Papua in 2005. 25 local tribe clans own the majority of this land and have rejected Korindo’s plantation proposal. Nevertheless, in 2015, Korindo moved forward with land clearing in this area.

As the satellite images below show, there were 88 hotspots recorded in 2015 and six recorded in January 2016. By the end of April 2015, about 2,800 hectares had been cleared.

The massive fires set by Korindo on the PT TSE 1B concession are visible in the satellite image below, taken in late October 2015.

Satellite evidence gathered by Aidenvironment documents Korindo’s systematic use of fire. Landsat 8 imagery of Oct 24- Nov 1, 2015.

The brown color on the image below, taken in early May 2016, shows the area cleared by Korindo on the PT TSE 1B concession, which is about 500 hectares of primary forest and 2,300 hectares of secondary forest.

Satellite evidence gathered by Aidenvironment documents Korindo’s systematic use of fire and deforestation. Sentinel-2 image, May 11 2016.

PT Berkat Cipta Abadi 1 Concessions

The entire PT BCA 1 concession area was forested before Korindo started its oil palm operations. During 2013 and 2014, a total of 4,500 hectares of primary forest were cleared, along with 8,700 hectares of secondary forest. Only a river corridor of 700 hectares was spared, as seen in the images below.

Left: The entire concession area was forested before Korindo began its operations. Source: Indonesian Ministry of Forestry forest cover maps for 2011. Right: Korindo cleared 4,500 hectares of primary forest, along with 8,700 hectares of secondary forest. Only a river corridor of 700 hectares was spared. Source: Landsat 8 imagery for 22 to 30 September 2015.

Land development began in the north and ended in the south. Hotspots followed deforestation and subsequent land development, as can be seen on the graphic below. In total, there were 106 hotspots recorded in 2013 and 2014. Burning is illegal under Indonesian law, and in addition, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry specifically prohibited PT BCA from burning wood waste. Korindo ignored the extra warning and the fact that their fires are illegal, and continued burning.

The image below shows the spread of hotspots from north to south in 2013 and 2014 as Korindo cleared the land. Again, the pattern of fires closely mirrors Korindo’s land development, illustrating how the fires were not natural.

PT BCA hotspot pattern in 2013 and 2014.

Aside from being extremely destructive for biodiversity and the environment, these illegal fires are incredibly dangerous for human health. A recent study by researchers from Harvard and Columbia found that the 2015 haze crisis in Southeast Asia likely caused 103,000 premature deaths in the region. The crisis was driven by intentionally set illegal fires by palm oil and timber agribusinesses. An estimated half a million people in Indonesia sought medical care because of the 2015 haze according to Indonesian authorities. The crisis cost Indonesia $16 billion in losses in agriculture, travel, tourism, forestry, and other industries, according to the World Bank.

Burning to clear forests is also illegal, prohibited under Indonesian Law No. 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management, among others. Possible penalties for those found guilty of breaking this law include fines and prison terms. The findings of this investigation has been filed with the Indonesian government and the Ministry of Forestry announced that they will investigate.  

In addition to the the fires, the Mighty report showcased aerial drone footage, videos, and photos of extensive deforestation by Korindo. Even Korindo’s own promotional video for its plywood business shows deforestation, chainsaws cutting through old growth logs, and boasts about clearing natural forest.  Papua’s rainforests hold a full 50% of the Indonesian archipelago’s biodiversity. Korindo’s decimation of these lush forests has resulted in the destruction of habitats of many species endemic to the area. In total, the company has cleared more than 50,000 hectares of forests in Papua for palm oil since 1998, an area approximately the size of Seoul, South Korea.

Responsible production of palm oil is possible. The palm oil industry has a long way to go and Korindo is one of the worst offenders. But many other companies have shown commitment to deforestation-free and exploitation-free palm oil, including companies that have dropped Korindo as a supplier because it is violating their policies.  These companies show that responsible production and profitability can go hand in hand.  For the sake of the Papuan forests, indigenous communities, and wildlife, we hope that Korindo will become Green Today, not “Green Tomorrow”.

Featured photo is of smoke rising from burning wood rows in Korindo’s PT Berkat Cipta Abadi concession; ©Ardiles Rante/Greenpeace; 26 March 2013

Rainforest Campaign Gets Big Response in South Korea

It’s been a busy and exciting few weeks for the Mighty team. Following the launch of our “Burning Paradise” report on Korindo, which prompted the Indonesian government to announce a major investigation and garnered widespread media coverage, Mighty team members Bustar Maitar and Deborah Lapidus traveled to South Korea to participate in a speaking and media tour, organized by the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM). The tour consisted of lectures at Seoul National University, a press conference, an activist rally, and meetings with a range of related companies, civil society organizations, and government officials. The story was covered by several major Korean news outlets, including SisaIN, Kyung Huang News, Newsis, Korea IT Times, Munhwa Journal, and many others. Notably, this citizen-led campaign in Korea proves that sustainability concerns are rising across Asia, spreading beyond the mainstays of Europe and North America, a sign of major progress in the fight to end deforestation.


The extensive evidence of Korindo’s destruction of a rainforest paradise in Papua, Indonesia, sent shock waves throughout Korea, where Korindo, owned by the influential Korean Seung family, had spent several decades portraying itself as a “green” company that plants trees in Indonesia. Korindo was visibly rattled that the truth about their devastating practices was being revealed on their home turf. A team of Korindo executives even flew in from Jakarta to follow the tour in an apparent effort to cast doubt on the report. However, Korindo has failed to provide any counter-evidence or data to make its case.

In meetings between NGO coalition members and Korindo in both Korea and Jakarta, Korindo executives appeared to be stuck in the 1950s when it came to their approach to development, and seemed entirely unaware of the broader trends in their industry toward responsible agriculture. The Korindo executives refused to acknowledge they had a problem, defended their deforestation, and couldn’t seem to get their story straight about the fires: first denying them altogether and then admitting there were fires, but placing the blame on a number of different factors ranging from the weather to local communities to workers trying to eliminate beehives in leftover biomass.

Meanwhile, the pressure on Korindo is mounting. Every week, more and more global palm oil and wood products buyers report that they are excluding Korindo from their supply chains. You can see a more detailed graph of who has taken action below. Rainforest Action Network did a case study of community rights violations and deforestation at Korindo’s Korintiga logging concession on its Forests and Finance website. Greenpeace profiled Korindo’s destruction in a report it released this week, A Deadly Trade Off. The Indonesian government announced and even tweeted that it plans to visit Korindo’s concessions to investigate allegations of illegal forest burning. The clamor for action was heightened last week when Harvard and Columbia researchers released a new study finding that in 2015 the toxic haze released by forest fires in Indonesia led to a staggering 100,300 premature deaths across Southeast Asia.

The world is watching Korindo right now. But it’s going to take even more action by consumers across the globe to get Korindo out of the mud and at the negotiating table. Join the campaign by signing our petition to demand that Korindo agree to a moratorium on forest clearing and stop taking community lands.


Massive Fires on the Concessions of Indonesia's Second Biggest Palm Oil Producer

New report finds that Astra Agro Lestari has little control over forest fires, despite sustainability pledges.

One year ago, Astra Agro Lestari (Astra), the second largest private palm oil grower in Indonesia, adopted a new, ambitious No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation policy. In response to pressure from NGOs and shareholders, the company introduced an immediate moratorium on forest clearance in June 2015, and in September the same year published a sustainability policy which included commitments to cease forest clearance, refrain from developing plantations on peatlands, prevent fires and respect human rights of workers and local communities.

However, a new report commissioned by Rainforest Foundation Norway, Mighty, and the Indonesian organizations YMP and KKI Warsi shows that, one year in, the implementation of Astra’s sustainability policy leaves much to be desired.

Read the full report here.

Little control over forest fires

Beyond a commitment in its sustainability policy to avoid using fire to clear land, Astra provides little public information on how it prevents and mitigates fires.

The report shows that thousands of hectares of natural forests and palm oil plantations were lost to fire inside Astra’s Kalimantan concessions during Indonesia’s 2015 haze disaster. A total of 677 fire hotspots were found in Astra’s concessions from July to October 2015.

This is serious, considering that the forest fires in Indonesia last year may have caused over 100.000 premature deaths, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities.

“Astra urgently needs to take steps to prevent a repeat of last year’s haze catastrophe,” says Anja Lillegraven of Rainforest Foundation Norway. “Palm oil plantations on peat are extremely fire-prone, and we want to see Astra making a serious effort to restore degraded peatlands and forests within its concessions.”

The report stresses that there are no grounds to suggest that Astra intentionally uses fire to clear land, but the number and scale of fires certainly show that fire prevention and mitigation by Astra were not effective during 2015. Furthermore, Indonesian law holds companies responsible for preventing and extinguishing fires on their concessions, regardless of who started the fires.

Effective deforestation ban

Astra manages around 298,000 hectares of palm oil plantations in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Over the last five years before its No Deforestation policy, the company expanded its planted area by 35,000 hectares. A previous sustainability assessment found that Astra had deforested 14,000 hectares since 2007 and destroyed 27,000 hectares of carbon-rich peatlands since 2009 which resulted in at least two million tons of carbon emissions annually (not including emissions from forest fires).

Astra’s policy has been effective in stopping forest clearance, according to the report. No cases of deforestation or clearing of peatland, and no new expansion, has taken place within Astra’s own concessions since the moratorium of June 2015. However, around 300 hectares of rainforest clearing were discovered in a concession area not owned by Astra, but where Astra manages oil palm plantations in cooperation with the concession owners.

Still sourcing from “high risk” third party suppliers

The report found that in the first half of 2016, Astra sourced 33,000 tons of palm oil from a high risk supplier called PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya (PT ANJ).PT ANJ cleared 8,000 hectares of natural forest in West Papua between early 2014 to mid-2015.This supplier was suspended by four other major palm oil buyers for violating their No Deforestation policies, yet Astra provided no response as to whether it assessed the company’s sustainability practices before buying from them.

“Astra is moving forward, but at an inchworm’s speed. We have yet to see the real drive for change from Astra that is needed to move its supply chain along with it,” said Deborah Lapidus, Campaigns Director with Mighty. “Astra must immediately publish the identities of its suppliers and report on their performance, or we’ll constantly be wondering what’s lurking in Astra’s shadows.”

Astra sources about one third of its palm oil from third party suppliers. Astra’s policy applies to these suppliers, but there is no evidence that Astra has engaged its suppliers on its policy or conducted independent assessments of supplier compliance. Astra has yet to be transparent about who its suppliers are and where they are located.

Unresolved legacy of human rights violations

Astra’s previous plantation establishment has led to severe human rights violations. The NGO coalition views Astra’s efforts to address grievances and provide remedy as insufficient.

“The indigenous Orang Rimba people in Jambi are suffering as a result of Astra’s palm oil plantations”, said Diki Kurniawan from KKI WARSI in Jambi. “Because their lands were expropriated by Astra, they live in extreme poverty and despair. We urge Astra to return land to the 400 Orang Rimba within Astra’s plantation so they can live a decent life.”

Featured photo: CIFOR

Harvard-Columbia study finds that 2015 haze in Indonesia likely caused 100,300 premature deaths

By Etelle Higonnet

Jakarta, 19 September 2016 – A new study being published Monday by scientists at Harvard and Columbia University has estimated that haze from Southeast Asia’s 2015 haze crisis may have caused 100,300 premature deaths. These deaths span three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The number of individuals affected in other countries was not calculated.For 2015, the team estimated:

  •     91,600 excess deaths in Indonesia,
  •     6,500 in Malaysia, and
  •     2,200 in Singapore.

These impacts are even greater than a previous major haze event in 2006, when 34,600 deaths occurred in Indonesia; 2,300 in Malaysia, and 700 in Singapore. The numbers show that Indonesians themselves have been the main victims of companies and other actors engaging in deforestation and burning, with more than 90% of victims Indonesian. Indonesians will be the primary beneficiary of government and private sector action to reduce haze.

In addition, the scientific team is in the process of calculating premature deaths from haze for additional years, and for a range of land-use scenarios going forward to 2030. Their full research will be available in 2017.

Their research complements that of other scholars, and sheds important light on which areas are responsible for the haze. It can provide important evidence of damages and liability of companies responsible for burning under Indonesian, Singaporean, and Malaysian law that can be used in both civil and criminal legal proceedings.

Previously, companies and governments in the region provided repeated claims that that fewer than two dozen deaths were recorded. This study reveals the truth. This research shows that haze kills, it kills across borders, and it kills on a massive scale.

 Haze’s impacts

The new research by Harvard and Columbia scientists supplements what we already knew about the harms and illnesses caused by haze:

  • For several months, approximately 43 million people on Sumatra and Kalimantan were inhaling toxic fumes;
  • An estimated half million people in Indonesia sought medical care because of haze;
  • Sumatra and Kalimantan saw levels of the Pollutant Standard Index close to 2,000 when anything above 300 is considered hazardous to human health.The haze from Indonesia’s forest fires contributed to about 3% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in 2015;
  • Indonesian haze emissions outstripped the entire US economy’s emissions for 38 out of 56 days in a row (even though the US economy is roughly 19 times the size of Indonesia’s economy);
  • Previous research by the World Bank already established that the 2015 haze cost Indonesia at least USD 16.1 billion (IDR 221 trillion), equivalent to 1.9% of 2015 GDP and roughly twice what the tsunami cost;
  • Six Indonesian provinces declared a state of emergency in 2015 due to haze;

The health impacts documented by the Harvard study only account for a portion of those likely caused by haze. This study doesn’t include the comprehensive toll over the last decade. It only deals with deaths from particulate matter and not mortality from other hazardous pollutants inside killer haze like ozone. In addition, it explores only deaths and not illnesses. Last, the study does not include health effects in children, nor does it examine in-depth the impact on especially vulnerable groups like the roughly 20,000 firefighters battling killer haze up close for extended periods of time; or the combined toxicity of exposure to multiple hazardous elements in the air at the same time.

RecommendationsMore should be done to stop fires and haze

Since the haze crisis, the Indonesian government has undertaken a number of positive steps to prevent a recurrence of the haze crisis, including a moratorium on new palm oil concessions, a ban on development of peat, and the establishment of the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) that is working hard to conserve and restore peatlands. In part as a result of these efforts, haze in 2016 is significantly reduced from last year. Nonetheless, the results of this study show the severity of the impacts, and that haze prevention efforts across all jurisdictions need to be redoubled. In particular, while the government has ramped up its efforts, private sector efforts are lagging. The following measures can help:

  • Major palm oil, paper, and rubber companies should immediately create a joint monitoring and enforcement system that can ensure that Indonesian commodities connected to haze are prevented from reaching the marketplace.
  • Full implementation of a ban on burning at any scale, backed by substantial public education efforts and support for smallholder access to markets.
  • Palm oil, paper, rubber and other agricultural and forestry companies should take steps to ensure they have the equipment and manpower needed to put out fires (this is already a requirement under Indonesian law, but companies have often not met the standard, and the law has not been fully enforced).
  • Companies that engage in activities that increase the risk of burning, such as draining of peat, deforestation, and poor forestry slash management should be held accountable.
  • Companies and others should rewet peatlands, and provide support to Indonesian efforts to reduce haze, such as the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG).
  • A total ban on further deforestation, including of all High Carbon Stock landscapes, should be announced until data on full health costs has been properly collected and analyzed, and the implications of further deforestation on mortality is fully understood.
  • Completing the “one map” initiative immediately would clarify land ownership throughout Indonesia, helping to resolve recurring land conflicts, standardize mapping, and feed in to Indonesia’s centralized Land Registry. This initiative has been caught up in misplaced concerns about confidentiality that undermine government efforts at conservation, and should be resolved now. In the meantime, both the government and the private sector have access to sufficient maps to hold companies responsible for haze and deforestation.
  • Prioritize fire prevention and investigate, prosecute, and punish those who contribute to haze. Investigations into present crimes must not preclude robust investigations into past burning, including by largepalm oil, paper, and timber companies.
  • Companies tied to any past or present burning should contribute to the health care costs of haze, and take financial responsibility for deaths that research connects to haze from their concessions.


Legal and policy Implications:Companies whose concessions are linked to haze-related deaths – and executives – should be held accountable for haze. Moreover, corporate or financial institutions should be held responsible for financing companies known to have encouraged or set fires resulting in killer haze.

Background: how can haze kill people? What is inside killer haze, and what does it do to humans?

Thousands of premature deaths and illnesses are due to the many harmful or toxic elements in killer haze, but a key deadly element is " PM2.5 particles."PM2.5 is what the recent Harvard/Columbia study examined. PM2.5 is particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers or less. (For comparison purposes, fine beach sand can be 90 micrometers and a human hair is 50 to 70 micrometers.) PM2.5 particles are so minute that they invade the smallest airways of the human body deep within the lung and the smallest can even find their way into your bloodstream.

However, PM2.5 is not the only threat to human health in haze. Besides particulate matter (PM) composed of organic and black carbon, smoke and gasses from forest and peat fires can contain dangerous elements such as ammonia, cyanide, formic acids, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, methanol, benzene, mono-nitrogen oxides, dimethyl sulfide, potassium, sulfur oxides, aldehydes, carbonyl compounds, methyl chloride, methyl bromide, non-methane hydrocarbons, ethylene, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and their oxygenated derivatives, as well as irritant and hazardous volatile organic compounds. These elements are likely to have been present in Indonesia’s killer haze for many years. Depending on what is burning, on ventilation rates, and on the temperature of the fire, the type of particles and chemicals in haze can vary. In some cases, Indonesia’s haze contains extraordinarily high levels of toxic elements separate from, and in addition to, PM2.5 For instance, when the Center for International Forestry Research measured carbon monoxide levels in Central Kalimantan in mid-October 2015, the levels were 30 times higher than normal, even indoors and even over 30 kilometers from the nearest fire.

To complement the Harvard/Columbia modeling, it is useful to look at evidence from a medical, physiological perspective. The most common morbidity and mortality impacts of PM2.5 from smoke from peat and forest fires include all­-cause cardiac conditions, neonatal mortality, cardiorespiratory mortality, exacerbations of respiratory and cardio­vascular conditions, and inflammation. Worldwide, research indicates health impacts of peat fires range from severe to mild: from heart attacks to non-lethal ailments like headaches, watery eyes, fatigue, dizziness, weakness, sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation; asthma, bronchitis, chest pain, respiratory infections, hypertension, cardiac dysrhythmia.  Children are particularly vulnerable to repeated and prolonged exposure to PM – as happened to millions of children across Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Killer haze may harm the growth and functioning of children’s lungs, leading to children’s decreased pulmonary function, increased respiratory symptoms and respiratory infection, and increased chronic lung disease. Prenatal exposure to PM is linked to low birth weight, pre-term delivery, and fetal death.

Regional Responsibility for Haze –where is smoke exposure coming from?

The study includes a detailed analysis of the contribution to haze from different regions, highlighting which areas deserve the most focus. The following graph is excerpted from the study and shows the source of haze:

Figure 1: From Koplitz et al 2016 Environmental Research Letters.

In sum, South Sumatra should be a primary focus of efforts to tackle haze, though given the significant health and environmental impacts, Jambi and Kalimantan should also receive attention.


Overall, this new study shows that the haze crisis’ health impacts are far more severe than previously claimed, and should prompt calls for legal accountability for companies engaged in deforestation and burning. The Indonesian government has undertaken many critical efforts to prevent recurrence of the haze crisis. This study shows the need to continue and increase these efforts, and the urgent need for new private sector mechanisms to prevent the 2015 haze crisis from ever recurring.

Etelle Higonnet is the Campaign and Legal Director for Mighty (, a global environmental organization. A graduate of Yale Law School, she has worked for many years on environmental and human rights policy in Southeast Asia. 

Etelle Higonnet is the Campaign and Legal Director for Mighty (, a global environmental organization. A graduate of Yale Law School, she has worked for many years on environmental and human rights policy in Southeast Asia. 

Featured photo © Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace.

UPDATE: Indonesian Government Launches Official Investigation into Korindo for Burning, Deforestation

On Thursday, Mighty’s forest campaign launched in Jakarta with a bang, some high drama, and almost immediate impact.

Two dozen journalists showed up to our inaugural press conference, where, along with Papuan groups SKP-KAMe and Pusaka, we unveiled the “Burning Paradise” report. With stunning images, it documented how the Korean-Indonesian conglomerate Korindo had engaged in systematic illegal burning of rainforest in Papua, and how this one company destroyed 50,000 hectares of forest - an area the size of Seoul.

Three Korindo executives also showed up to the event, only to be dramatically confronted by the assembled media to respond to the charges (see photo, above). In response, Korindo representative Luwy admitted to the fires, as related in the September 1st edition of Kompas, one of the largest circulation Indonesian newspapers:

“This information is valuable for our internal discussion. About the fire, it is true, so what do we want to argue,” said Luwy, a Korindo’s field technical staff who came with his friend to the report release. – Kompas, September 2, 2016.

The investigation and press conference prompted media attention from The GuardianWall Street Journal, The Independent, Mongabay, Straits Times, Eco-BusinessVocativQuartz, Jakarta Globe, Jakarta Post, Deutsche Welle, and many others.

Following the press conference, the Indonesian government announced that it would follow up with its own investigation into Korindo’s deforestation and burning, including sending a field team to explore Korindo’s operations. This is part of a series of actions in which President Jokowi, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, and Peatland Restoration Director Nazir Foead are significantly improving law enforcement of environmental infractions across Indonesia, hopefully sending an important message to the private sector that they need to do their part as well, like instituting a more transparent, joint action system that can prevent a recurrence of the Korindo debacle.

Korean-Indonesian conglomerate Korindo has cleared Indonesian forest comparable to the size of Seoul, South Korea.
Korean-Indonesian conglomerate Korindo has cleared Indonesian forest comparable to the size of Seoul, South Korea.

And the private sector is starting to respond…mostly. When we shared the evidence with them, Korindo’s primary customers Wilmar and Musim Mas discontinued their purchases from the company. Dozens more consumer companies have also announced that they no longer source from palm oil.

Significantly, however, despite repeated outreach, Burger King and Krispy Kreme (owned by JAB Holdings) have yet to respond – leading to a serious question about whether those companies are frying their doughnuts and French fries in Korindo’s palm oil (in contrast, McDonald’s is undertaking a serious inquiry into its supply chain to ensure no connection to Korindo). The giant ag trader Cargill stands out as the major agriculture trader that has also not responded (this may not be a coincidence given likely supply relationships between Cargill and the non-responsive consumer companies). At a minimum, Burger King and Krispy Kreme’s continued opacity and non-responsiveness shows that they are not living up to the transparency and commitment to deforestation-free supply chains that have become the industry standard.

This week, the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements and Mighty’s Southeast Asia Director Bustar Maitar and Campaigns Director Deborah Lapidus will be joining a tour of universities, governments, and media in Korea to discuss the company’s actions on its home turf. They should find a receptive audience: not only has Korea become a global leader in creating a green economy, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye also showed her support for conservation in Indonesia when she signed an agreement in May with Indonesian president Joko Widodo to help Indonesia stop forest fires….like the ones being caused by Korindo.

Investigation Reveals Deforestation Throughout Palm Oil Supply Chain

Marisa Bellantonio, 203-479-2026
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Major palm oil buyers kept Korindo in their supply chain for more than two years after No Deforestation policies

Merauke, Papua, Indonesia (1 September, 2016) -- A groundbreaking new investigation released today by the environmental organization Mighty, the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM), the Indonesian humanitarian organizations SKP-KAMe Merauke and PUSAKA, Rainforest Foundation Norway, and Transport & Environment, reveals new satellite, photographic, and video evidence of massive deforestation and illegal burning of pristine rainforest by the Korean-Indonesian corporation Korindo, to support establishment of its palm oil plantations on the Indonesian provinces of Papua and North Maluku.  The report is being released just as the fire season is heating up across Indonesia.  While the report focuses on Korindo’s palm oil business, its sizeable timber operations are having a similar impact, including on the habitat of beloved and rare tree kangaroos and birds of paradise endemic to Papua.

The investigation, including stunning photos and videos, is available at

Read the full technical report here.

“The extent of Korindo’s systematic clearing and burning of Indonesia’s pristine rainforest is downright tragic,” said Deborah Lapidus, Campaigns Director for Mighty. “But what’s shocking is that the world’s major buyers of palm oil kept Korindo in their supply chains for more than two years after adoption of their No Deforestation policies. Although individual companies have made some progress on cleaning up their supply chains, the example of Korindo shows that company-by-company efforts to stop deforestation and human rights abuse are inadequate, and that an industry-wide ban on deforestation is needed immediately.”

“Major palm oil buyers like Wilmar, Musim Mas, ADM, and IOI, who sell to consumer companies like L’Oreal, Biersdorf, and General Mills, did the right thing by ceasing purchases from Korindo when we shared this evidence with them, but they should have caught Korindo’s obvious deforestation and illegal burning sooner. It’s hard to miss 34,000 hectares of deforestation in the middle of a pristine rainforest,” Lapidus added.

In stark contrast to its “green” branding, Korindo has not published any sustainability policies and fails to abide by the No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) standards adopted by major palm oil buyers around the world, which led to it being dropped by the large traders Wilmar and Musim Mas.  In response to this market pressure, on August 9th 2016 one Korindo subsidiary called PT Tunas Sawa Erma, announced a moratorium on forest clearing over the next three months as it develops a NDPE policy. However, Korindo fell far short of action to end deforestation and land rights abuses across its sprawling palm oil and timber operations.

“Korindo is giving Korea a shameful reputation around the world,” said Choony Kim, International Cooperation Specialist with the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements.  “Korean companies should respect customary rights of local communities and adhere to the environmental laws of the countries in which they are operating.”

Papua is a remote Indonesian province with access restrictions for media and civil society. As a result, Korindo has been able to get away with systematic clearing and burning for oil palm plantations with almost no accountability. The extensive photos from this field investigation are therefore extremely rare and difficult to obtain.

“The rainforest has defined life and culture in Papua.  In a few short years Korindo has destroyed the forests that our ancestors called home, the forests that provide us with food, shelter, and clean water,” said Pastor Amo, the religious leader and Director of SKP-KAMe Merauke. “The Indonesian government should be stepping in to stop this company from converting Papua’s natural treasures into industrial farms.”

"Indigenous peoples' rights have been abused systematically by Korindo, which has destroyed the forests that are their source of livelihood. This must stop and the government must protect the indigenous peoples' rights and the forests they rely on," added PUSAKA Director Y.L. Franky.

The report’s main findings reveal:

  • Mass deforestation - In total, Korindo has cleared more than 50,000 hectares of tropical lowland forests in Papua and North Maluku, Indonesia for palm oil; an area approximately the size of South Korea’s capital city, Seoul. Since 2013 alone, it has cleared 30,000 hectares of forests in the two provinces, 12,000 hectares of which were primary forests
  • Illegal fires - All evidence - satellite imagery, hotspot data, and aerial photographs - points to Korindo’s systematic and abundant use of fire during its land clearing processes, which is illegal in Indonesia. The report finds that Korindo was a significant contributor to the 2015 Southeast Asian haze crisis which led to respiratory illness in millions of people, infant deaths and cost Indonesia’s economy $16 billion.  Korindo could also be held accountable under Singapore’s Transboundary Haze law, which can impose fines and jail time on foreign companies driving haze in Singapore.  These findings will be filed with Indonesian and Singaporean prosecutors.
  • Wildlife extinction - Papua is a rainforest paradise, hosting a full 50 percent of the entire Indonesian archipelago’s biodiversity. In fact, the area where Korindo currently operates in North Maluku was one of the stops of British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace on his famous eight-year Indonesian expedition, where he gathered 100,000 insect, bird, and animal specimens that helped him develop the theory of evolution along with his contemporary Charles Darwin. Papua is home to thousands of unique flora and fauna species, including birds of paradise, rainbow fishes, and tree kangaroos. These small marsupials are at risk of total extinction as they lose their forest habitat.
  • Community rights abuse - Papua is also home to over 300 distinct indigenous tribes, some of whom remain uncontacted. Korindo has generally failed to recognize the right of local communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to any new developments on community lands. Korindo’s subsidiary PT Gelora Mandiri Membangun is occupying the farmland and forests of communities in the South Halmahera district of North Maluku. Most of the communities, which have lived there for hundreds of years, are strongly opposed to an oil palm plantation. Korindo is disregarding their customary land rights by continuing its operations there.
  • Continued threat - 75,000 hectares of untouched forests remain in Korindo’s palm oil concessions that are at imminent risk of destruction. Even more remain in Korindo’s logging concessions. In addition, Korindo is paving the way for large scale commodity agriculture in Papua, heralding a gold-rush-type land grab in the area of Indonesia with the largest intact rainforest landscapes.

Korindo, the firm responsible for the deforestation and burning of Papua, is a Korean-Indonesian conglomerate with subsidiaries in natural resources, newsprint paper manufacturing, heavy industries, and finance. The 20,000 employee corporation has affiliates around the globe, including the LA-based company KOUSA which sells paper products and wind towers to companies like Siemens and Clipper.

Palm oil is used in a variety of consumer goods such as shampoo, margarine, ice cream, pizza dough, doughnuts, lipstick, and much more. It is estimated that about 50% of consumer goods contain palm oil. A large portion of palm oil is also now used for biofuel. 45% of the palm oil used in Europe today is burned in car and truck engines, according to a 2016 report by Transport & Environment. According to European policy, all palm oil must be deforestation-free, but Korindo has been selling to many of the trading companies that sell palm oil-based biofuels in Europe.

For more information, including photos and videos from the field of Korindo’s operations visit:

About Mighty

Mighty is a new global environmental campaign launched by the Center for International Policy. Mighty deploys courageous, nimble, and strategic campaigns to make a lasting difference for the environment, with a significant focus on forest conservation.  Using advocacy, grassroots organizing, communications, and research, Mighty works to achieve victories for the planet, its people, and its creatures. Learn more at


Straight Talk on Indonesia’s Deforestation

Singapore Straits Times

The Indonesian government has stepped up its efforts to fight haze caused by deforestation, but is the private sector doing its part?

The government recently revoked or suspended the land-clearing licences of 27 companies linked to fires. President Joko Widodo announced a ban on new palm oil concessions and peat development, and the new peatland restoration agency (BGA) is putting an all-out effort into ensuring that the government's strong conservation policy is more than just good intentions.

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