January 30, 2019

Earthworm members mired in orangutan peat forest loss

JAKARTA ( - As of late January this year, peat forests inhabited by the Bornean orangutan are still being removed and drained for the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province.

This situation highlights the fact that global palm oil supply chains remain engaged in such practices which are devastating the habitat of this  critically-endangered species

In a previous news report from late November 2018,   exposed the clearing and peat drainage practices underway in the PT SAE palm oil concession (Saraswanti group), which forms part of the habitat of the Bornean orangutan situated in Landak regency.

There is ongoing doubt about the practices of members of The Forest Trust (TFT) - which just announced a change of name to Earthworm Foundation (Jan 27) -  given that Nestlé, its key member, has been found to be continually linked to the destruction of Bornean orangutan-inhabited peat forests. 

Of course it is not only Nestlé that is associated with these destructive practices; the supply chains of other Earthworm members, such as  CargillMarsBunge, and ADM among others, have also been involved.

The first two Planet Explorer images below depict the new clearing of Bornean orangutan-inhabited peat forests in the Saraswanti palm oil concession, while the following two photos portray the peat forests before they were cleared by the company.

By the deadline given to it, Nestlé had yet to respond to questions about this matter. However, in mid-October 2018, its spokesperson explained in writing to about the company's efforts to accelerate towards reaching its 2020 no deforestation commitment.  

“We will also be monitoring 100% of our global palm oil supply chains for deforestation risks through Starling, a satellite-based service developed by  Airbus and TFT (now Earthworm Foundation), by the end of 2018,” the Nestlé spokesperson wrote.

Whether this Starling-based monitoring service was working or not by the end of December 2018 is unclear, particularly in view of the latest evidence demonstrating that new peat forest drainage was ongoing in the Saraswanti concession during January 2019.

By the time this news report was posted, no new announcement had been made by Nestlé regarding any new companies affected by its blacklist policy due to their involvement in deforestation and new peat drainage.  

Meanwhile, Nestlé’s fellow conglomerate Cargill was still unable to provide any information as of the deadline, stating that it requires time to obtain clear information from its internal team handling this matter. 

Golden Agri’s response 

In following-up on this case, also asked Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) - another Earthworm member - for its opinion seeing that this Singapore-based company also still sources palm oil from Saraswanti. 

The following Planet Explorer images, provided by the  spatial team, serve as a flashback, showing developments in the eradication of the Bornean orangutan’s habitat in the Saraswanti palm oil concession since early May 2017.

The situation seen in the images above makes it clear that from at least the start of May 2017 until late January 2019, Earthworm members have retained supply chains tainted by the removal of Bornean orangutan-inhabited peat forests.

Only in late October 2018, with reference to its own monitoring, did GAR send an official letter to the Saraswanti group asking it to cease land clearing and carry out assessments concerning high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS) areas, including peat studies.

Considering that it did not get a satisfactory response from the Saraswanti group, GAR proceeded to send it a second letter. 

“To date, GAR has received no response to these requests and therefore considers the company non-compliant with our social and environmental policy,” a GAR spokesperson told in writing (Jan 29). 

The spokesperson added that “GAR traders have been advised of the non-compliance (of the Saraswanti group) and GAR does not make public statements about its commercial relationships. Our quarterly mill reports provide information about current purchasing.” 

However, before this news report was posted checked GAR’s supply chain map on its website and the Saraswanti company is still listed as one of its suppliers. When asked to confirm whether this mill report contains the latest data, GAR answered “yes”. 

As to TFT, or Earthworm Foundation as it has been recently renamed, it needs to confront the reality that the palm oil supply chains of its members are significantly engaged with deforestation and peat drainage practices in Indonesia.