Palm oil giant’s claim it can’t control Liberian subsidiary a ‘red herring,’ NGO says

By Daniel Pye |

The Forest Peoples Programme, an NGO, recently filed five new complaints against palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources. The complaints were filed in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, of which the company is a member.

One of the complaints targets the company’s Liberian subsidiary, Golden Veroleum, which recently withdrew from the RSPO after losing an appeal against a different complaint filed against it.

The Forest Peoples Programme says it is egregious for Golden Agri to stay in the RSPO while its own subsidiary violates the organization’s standards. A spokeswoman for Golden Agri-Resources said the company has “no management control” over its Liberian subsidiary.

One of Indonesia’s biggest family-owned firms is facing fresh criticism over its alleged failure to comply with its sustainability commitments as part of its palm oil operations in Liberia.

Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), the main palm oil arm of the vast Sinarmas conglomerate, which is owned by the billionaire Widjaja family, was the subject of a series of complaints filed to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in late August by a group of NGOs including the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP).

The FPP alleges that GAR continues to fail to comply with RSPO standards, while its subsidiary Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) has withdrawn from the RSPO after it was ordered to stop building a palm oil mill located on contested land in the West African country.

GVL’s withdrawal from the RSPO while its parent company remains a member raises serious ethical questions, according to the FPP. That Agus Purnomo, a senior executive at GAR, also sits on the RSPO board has added to concerns over possible conflicts of interest in the RSPO’s treatment of GAR.

GAR is a member of the RSPO, the largest association for ethical production of palm oil, a commodity found in everything from chocolate to laundry detergent. Companies that join the RSPO are not supposed to destroy rainforests and grab land from indigenous and other rural communities. Membership in the RSPO allows GAR to sell its palm oil at a premium to buyers who care about sustainability, especially in Europe.

According to Liberian NGOs, GVL was “pushing ahead with its development despite the refusal of the Blogbo community to cede their lands to the company, despite their complaints to the RSPO, despite their complaints being upheld by the RSPO Complaints Panel and despite the Panel upholding the stop-work order it had issued, after overruling an appeal by GVL against the Panel’s decision,” the FPP said in a statement.

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