Major palm oil company withdraws from anti-deforestation initiative

Major palm oil company withdraws from anti-deforestation initiative

Liberian forest communities and NGOs condemn Golden-Agri Resources’ abandonment of responsibility

Amsterdam, Duazon, Washington – Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), one of the world’s largest palm oil producers, has withdrawn from the High Carbon Stock Approach Group, (HCSA Group). HCSA Group is a sustainability watchdog and standard-setting body that works to prevent deforestation.

This decision follows the company’s failure to adequately respond to a 2018 complaint by three Friends of the Earth groups against the company that obliges them to restore forests it destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations in Liberia’s Upper Guinea forest, and to redress serious human rights grievances. The forests destroyed by GAR’s Liberian operations are within the largest remaining extent of rainforest in West Africa, home to irreplaceable biodiversity and a source of livelihood for tens of thousands of people. GAR is part of the Sinar Mas Group, one of Asia’s largest agribusiness consortia, and supplies palm oil to many global consumer brands such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, and Mondelez.

“GAR’s withdrawal is an outrageous step and an affront to affected communities in Liberia,” said James Otto, programme leader at Sustainable Development Institute Liberia, “Liberians lost their forest, their rights were trampled and all of that was confirmed by the HCSA complaints procedure. If Golden Agri-Resources’ sustainability commitments are worth anything, the company needs to fulfill all recommendations from the HCSA, including organizing forest restoration of over one thousand hectares by and for communities.

“This action clearly shows that companies can willfully abuse the rights of local and indigenous communities, destroy the environment and walk away freely under the shadows of voluntary guidelines,” Otto added.

GAR’s withdrawal follows the example of palm oil giant Wilmar International, whose 2020 withdrawal was lamented by civil society as an evasion of its sustainability commitments. Earlier this month, SDI and Milieudefensie published an update report on adverse impacts in Liberia’s Wilmar plantations. IOI, another palm oil giant, also left the HCSA in January 2023.

Danielle van Oijen, international forest campaigner at Milieudefensie co-filed the HCSA complaint in 2018 and confirms that, “Over and over again we see companies use voluntary mechanisms to greenwash their image and use that to get access to finance and sensitive markets, but when it gets too hot under their feet, they just step away with no consequences. With the failure of voluntary market mechanisms, we have been pleading for decades for binding regulations to hold forest destroyers to account. Companies like GAR should not have access to finance or bring their produce on the market unless they repair the damage done and prevent further adverse impacts.”

Golden Agri-Resources is the ultimate owner of Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), an industrial plantation company with a large land bank in Southeast Liberia. Its operations have been controversial from the start, when communities filed a complaint to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2012 concerning land grabbing, human rights violations and environmental damage. The RSPO affirmed the complaint and ordered GVL to halt plantation expansion – an order which the HCSA Group extended after finding that some 1000 hectares of valuable forest had been destroyed during plantation development.

“Cancelling its membership in High Carbon Stock Approach does not excuse GAR of its obligation to ensure GVL delivers the Timebound Plan Framework set by the HCSA in full,” said Gemma Tillack, forest policy director for Rainforest Action Network, a founding member of the HCSA. “Consumer brands that do business with the Sinar Mas Group must now take action to ensure remedy is delivered to all affected communities, and the forests GVL cleared in violation of their policies, are restored.”

“GAR’s failure to redress the massive harm it has caused is as predictable as it is reprehensible,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Program Manager at Friends of the Earth U.S. “All of GAR’s financiers and buyers should take note that this action further exposes them to risk and liability, and should re-assess their finance and client relationship accordingly.”

Friends of the Earth groups urge the palm oil sector and its customers and financiers to move away from the harmful industrial concession model and to instead promote community-based agriculture and forest management.

Communications contacts:
Erika Seiber, [email protected], +1 865-255-7912
James Otto, jotto@sdiliberia, +231 77 000 1446
Reuben Sei Waylaun, [email protected], +231 77 672 5451

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