Jakarta. While wildfires rage across Kalimantan and Sumatra, Papua has fallen prey to the illegal slash-and-burn practices which devastated the two western islands, environmental watchdog Mighty has revealed in a new report.
Mighty's investigative report "Burning Paradise," which includes satellite images, hotspot data, photos and videos, accuses Korean-controlled conglomerate Korindo of burning native forests and of human rights violations in Papua and North Maluku.
Mighty was founded by Washington-based think tank the Center for International Policy and joined hands with several established organizations — strategic communications company Waxman Strategies, research organization Aidenvironment, local humanitarian organizations SKP-KAMe Merauke and Pusaka and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements — to produce the report.
"The continuous increase in global demand for palm oil has become an opportunity for many companies in Indonesia to widen their concessions, especially for palm oil, sacrificing the very little of forests we have left," Mighty Southeast Asia director Bustar Maitar said on Thursday (01/09).
Mighty's team ventured into Korindo's remote palm oil plantations in Papua to document the company's actions with the report including the live footage.
The conglomerate, controlled by the Korean-based Seung family, was established in Jakarta in 1969 with the headquarters remaining in the city since. The group's business includes wood chip production, operating palm plantations to financing and real estate.
The report found that over 50,000 hectares of tropical lowland forests – comparable to the size of Seoul – have been devastated by the group. Satellite imaging indicate Korindo was responsible for illegal forest fires, with 164 hotspots observed, at Korindo's Donghin Prabhawa palm oil plantation in Merauke, in 2015.
The unique and endangered wildlife endemic to Papua, such as the birds of paradise and tree kangaroos, are threatened by the constant habitat degradation.Conflicts Conflict among local tribes have been triggered by the loss of access to the forest, particularly with regards to land compensation. Rights abuses highlighted in the report found Korindo failed to obtain consent from local communities to build concessions upon their land.
Pastor Anselmus Amo, a religious leader and director of SKP KAMe Merauke, said many of the licenses obtained by palm companies on Papua are signed by people who do not represent local communities. In other cases, consent is forced through military pressure.
"Most of the times they come with the military to scare the locals. Their presence is not even necessary, the locals don't mean to do any harm, so why are they there?" the pastor told the Jakarta Globe during the press briefing in Jakarta on Thursday.
Corporate social responsibility programs are run by Korindo, with schools, clinics and housing built in some areas. Many communities affected y the concessions miss out.
"Business is business, but it still needs to follow the principles of human rights. They cannot be covered up by the corporate social programs. It's a social responsibility, not a blanket for human rights violations," Amo said.
Papuans traditionally rely on sustenance hunting and so shy away from the agrarian customs forced by palm companies.
"Papuans should be the kings on their own land. If they become laborers, they become slaves of theses corporations," he said.
Pusaka, a local NGO protecting the rights of Indigenous communities in Merauke, said the loss of forests is the same as losing the livelihood of the Papuan people.
"Many of the forests have been cleared out for palm oil concessions, the people of the Awiwi tribe have no source of food left, which means they are heading towards extinction," Pusaka director Y.L. Franky said.
Franky suggests that for companies to be credible they must develop a mechanism for conflict resolution to prevent future cases of violence similar to those reported across Korindo concessions.
"Last year we made a report on the military violence in the area. This is not the right way of conduct for the companies if they seek sustainable investments there," Franky said. Call for sanctions Bustar, an activist at Mighty, said the revelations in the report of Korindo's violations is a "cry for help" for the future of the country's forests.
“We just don’t want this to continue and let Papua share the same fate as the forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra,” Bustar, a former Greenpeace forest campaigner, said.
He urged ministries and relevant government authorities to sanction those who are proven to still practice slash-and-burn tactics in forest management, and stressed the importance of "free, prior and informed consent," as it is important for communities to be involved in the understanding and agreeing with new developments to be built on their land.
“We also ask customers of Korindo to stop, until they realize that they have to transform their unsustainable practices,” Bustiar said.Korindo's Responses In a written response published on Wednesday, Korindo denied the accusations and claimed to have "zero burning" policies in all palm plantations.
According to Korindo's statement, the hotspot images in Mighty's report were satellite images from the Aqua and Terra satellites taken after September 2015, when Indonesia suffered a long drought which caused wildfires across the country, including concession areas.
All palm plantations are registered and have secured necessary licensing from the government, the response said, adding that it has provided adequate compensation to local communities.
"The company also develops a plasma plantation [smaller plots of palm within plantations] of which 20 percent is for the local communities as a direct contribution to boost their revenues," the statement said.
Korindo, known to employ about 20,000 employees all over Indonesia, also denied its operations have increased the haze from forest fires, claiming it has burnt less than 0.1 percent of the total amount of forests burnt in Indonesia in 2015.