Jakarta, November 12, 2020 – groundbreaking investigation by Greenpeace International and Forensic Architecture indicates that Korindo – an Indonesian-Korean plantation and energy conglomerate whose customers include multinationals like Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy – intentionally used fires as part of the process of clearing vast areas of forest in remote areas of the Indonesia province of Papua. The group still holds a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for its timber operations despite being found to violate the organisation’s standards as a result of extensive forest clearance.

Korindo owns the largest palm oil plantation holdings in Papua and has destroyed 57,000 hectares of rainforest in the province since 2001, [1] an area almost the size of Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Greenpeace International collaborated with Forensic Architecture – a research collective based at Goldsmiths University of London, which uses spatial analysis to reconstruct cases of human rights violations and environmental destruction – to investigate whether the cause of the fires could be identified in Korindo’s palm oil concessions in Papua.

To determine whether the fires were accidental, linked to communities or to plantation development, Forensic Architecture used NASA satellite imagery covering a five-year period to identify heat sources from fires burning in PT Dongin Prabhawa, one of Korindo’s concessions located in Merauke, in the southern part of the island. To confirm the hotspots were in fact fires, Forensic Architecture used cutting-edge analysis to piece the data together with video footage from aerial surveys conducted by Greenpeace International campaigners in 2013. The team found that such patterns of deforestation and fire are consistent with deliberate use of fire.

Samaneh Moafy, Senior Researcher at Forensic Architecture said:

“If the fires in Korindo’s concession were natural, the outbreaks would be irregular. However, tracking the movements of deforestation and fires over time shows that they clearly happen in sequence with fires following the clearance in a west to east direction and overwhelmingly happening inside Korindo’s concession boundary”.

Kiki Taufik, head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia Forest campaign said:

“Jokowi’s government should be holding Korindo and other plantation companies accountable for the fires on their land and the major damage these cause to people’s health and the environment across Indonesia. Instead, the government’s track record shows inconsistent and weak law enforcement, combined with a weakening of environmental safeguards under the recently passed pro-business Omnibus law”.

In 2016, Korindo’s top palm oil customers – Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Musim Mas and Wilmar – stopped buying from the group after NGOs exposed its involvement in deforestation and violations of human rights. Further, NGOs wrote to one of Korindo’s largest commercial customers, Siemens, which buys wind towers from Korindo’s wind energy division, and asked it to also suspend the group. However, Siemens continues to trade with Korindo.

Korindo’s response has centred on the threat of legal action to silence civil society and news outlets that continue to investigate its activities. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which conducted three separate investigations into Korindo’s legacy on deforestation and human rights, published heavily redacted versions of its reports into these cases after facing legal threats. [2]

“The government of Indonesia hands out forests to companies like Korindo and allows them to operate with impunity. Meanwhile, companies, buyers and some certification bodies help them create a facade of sustainability. The government must immediately and transparently investigate the evidence of Korindo’s involvement with fires. The FSC must publish full uncensored versions of its reports that show how Korindo has violated its Policy for Association and immediately cut all ties with Korindo, as recommended by its own complaints panel,” said Taufik.

2020 has seen significant tree cover loss in Papua compared to earlier years. Much of this destruction has taken place behind the veil of Covid-19 restrictions. Travel bans have prevented effective monitoring of illegal land clearance operations and law enforcement to tackle violations has been thin on the ground. This has left plantation companies free to expand their concessions despite the government moratorium. [3]

Impacts of fires in Indonesia

●      An area eight times the size of Bali has burned in Indonesia in the last five years, a recent Greenpeace report showed. Between 2015 and 2019, 4.4 million hectares of land have burned in Indonesia. Some 789,600 ha of this area (18%) has burned repeatedly.

●      A review of studies shows Indonesia’s recurring fires put the health of millions of Indonesian children at risk, leading to slower growth, lower scores in cognitive tests, and thousands of child, infant and fetal deaths.

●      Plantation development is a root cause of Indonesia’s forest and peatland fires. In July 2015, devastating blazes spread in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua. These fires produced a haze that affected millions of people across Southeast Asia. Researchers at Harvard and Columbia Universities estimate that the smoke from 2015 Indonesian fires may have caused 100,000 premature deathsThe World Bank calculated the cost of the disaster at US$16bn.

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NOTES

[1] For the period 2011 – 2019, a total of 50,000 hectares of forest has been cleared. This is based on the CIFOR Papua Atlas.

[2] The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), found Korindo had destroyed more than 30,000 hectares of rainforest in the last five years, and in doing so had violated a number of FSC standards, including its failure to protect substantial areas of High Conservation Value Forests in its concessions. The FSC panel also highlighted violations of indigenous peoples’ traditional and human rights.

[3] So far this year, the number of forest disturbance alerts (‘GLAD alerts’) do not show a decline compared to last year; instead, their small increase indicates that clearing is continuing according to business as usual.

Contacts

Kiki Taufik, Global Head of the Indonesia Forest campaign Greenpeace Southeast Asia, E: kiki.taufik@greenpeace.org ; M: +62 811 870 6074

Sol Gosetti, International Communications Coordinator, Indonesia Forest campaign, E: sol.gosetti@greenpeace.org; M: +54 911 28313271

Greenpeace International Press Desk (available 24 hours), E: pressdesk.int@greenpeace.org; T: +31 (0)20 718 2470