In the last two years, a series of companies have made bold commitments to halt deforestation in their supply chains (see this story for the context). But producing products like palm oil without clearing ecologically important rainforest isn’t easy: It’s much easier to get rich quick by exploiting natural resources. Though most companies have agreed to rein in their operations, forests are still being razed.
Here, courtesy of a video from activist group Forest Heroes, you can see the results when that happens:
According to Forest Heroes, the company responsible for this act of deforestation is Astra Agro Lestari. Astra has announced it is “pursuing” deforestation-free palm oil, but has not made a clear promise to stop cutting down the forest, as other companies have.
Activists have very little leverage on agriculture businesses, but they can affect the companies associated with agribusiness. So the activists are going after Mandarin Oriental Hotels, which is owned by the same conglomerate that owns Astra — a group called Jardine Matheson. The chair of this conglomerate, Ben Keswick, is also on a corporate governance board for Astra.
Protesters showed up at Mandarin’s hotels in elephant suits, because palm oil development threatens the critically endangered Sumatran elephants. According to a press release from Forest Heroes, one of seven advocacy groups trying to change Astra’s policy, the company also has a big climate impact:
Astra has cut down 14,000 hectares of forests since 2007 to make way for palm oil plantations. In addition, the report found that Astra is responsible for clearing 27,000 hectares of ultra carbon-rich peatland since 2009. That clearing has released an estimated two million tons of climate pollution – about the same as annual emissions from 830,000 cars.
Jardine Matheson responded with a statement to Mongabay:
Jardine Matheson supports the sustainability policies of all of its companies, and believes that Astra Agro Lestari’s (AAL’s) sustainability practices are among the best in the industry. We understand that AAL has welcomed the new Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) initiative and is actively working towards signing up, and they are engaging with the key stakeholders about this.
If Astra took the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge, and then followed through, it would bring the company into line with the rest of the industry.