Satellite images acquired by EIA reveal that the clearing of tropical forests for palm oil has resumed in Indonesia’s West Papua after years of inactivity.
The areas are owned by Ciliandry Anky Abadi (CAA) group, a company infamous for deforestation and accused of operating illicitly as a shadow front for First Resources – itself a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
The RSPO is one of the world’s most well-known palm oil certification schemes – but its seal of approval lacks credibility as some members continue to be exposed for violations of the body’s own standards.
EIA has further learnt that CAA is trying to sue the local government for cancelling another of its palm oil permits in West Papua.
Forests Campaigner Siobhan Pearce said: “It seems some companies have very little regard for the rule of law. The efforts by CAA, and other companies, to hide their ownership structures, illegally clear forests and to try to sue the government is testimony to this.”
The satellite images show that two of CAA’s palm oil concessions in West Papua – PT Inti Kebu Sejahtera (IKSJ) and PT Inti Kebun Sawit (IKS) – have recently restarted clearing forests. CAA was named in 2021 as one of the worst deforesters.
CAA also stands accused of acting as a shadow company for First Resources, an allegation it denies. Opaque corporate structures are increasingly being used to hide links to companies with destructive practices and to evade sustainability commitments; the co-founder of Wilmar – the world’s largest trader of palm oil – was forced to resign in 2018 after it was revealed he and others were running a second unscrupulous company which had undertaken rampant deforestation.
While deforestation for palm oil in Indonesia hit a record low in 2021, any new conversion of forests for palm oil by company such as CAA is a significant cause for concern.
As part of Indonesia’s palm oil moratorium, all 24 palm oil concessions in West Papua were subject to a permit review, which concluded in February 2021, and both PT IKSJ and PT IKS were found to have numerous violations, including conflicting permits and not reporting that ownership had changed to CAA.
But one of the permit review’s findings concerned abandoned land and this aspect could be spurring the companies to restart forest clearance to prevent the land being taken back by the Government. If so, this is a worrying development – in Papua’s Jayapura, deforestation restarted after it was announced in January 2022 that a permit would be cancelled.
Not only is PT IKSJ clearing, it also seems to be illegally clearing and, if so, corrective action must be taken, including with regard to its Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification gained in November 2021.
CAA additionally owns a third palm oil concession in the area, PT Inti Kebun Lestari (IKL). This was one of the companies listed to have its permits cancelled by the review process. The company is now trying to sue the local government for the cancellation. On 12 January, a local court upheld the decision to revoke the permit and stated the land should be returned to the Moi indigenous people, whose land it is. The company is appealing the decision.
Pearce added: “The law must be upheld, including revealing the ultimate owners of companies. Indonesia established a beneficial ownership registry in 2018 but, so far, few companies have reported back.
“Not only that, but the Government of Indonesia must also make it clear whether remaining forests in palm oil concessions will be protected and the land returned to its indigenous owners.
“If past violations are simply erased and new permits handed out to new companies, we fear nothing will change.”