Bumitama launches second Sustainability Report

Bumitama has released their second Sustainability Report, covering financial years 2015 and 2016. This report provides an overview of Bumitama’s progress, successes and challenges in implementing its Sustainability Policy that launched simultaneously with its first report in 2015.

Download the report here.

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Wilmar International launches Sustainability Report 2016

Singapore-based Wilmar’s fifth Sustainability Report reflects the company’s documents progress towards its No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation commitments in 2016. The report details progress and performance data on key issues such as labour conditions and climate change, as well as overviews on planned activities for the coming years.

Download the report here.

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Launch of the High Carbon Stock Approach Toolkit V 2.0

On 3rd May, the High Carbon Stock Approach launched Toolkit V 2.0 in Bali. The methodology is a critical step in ensuring that companies have the support and practical tools to identify and prevent deforestation. The Helikonia team worked hard to support the development and launch of the toolkit in partnership with experts from all over the world.

To see the full details, please visit www.highcarbonstock.org

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Hap Seng Plantations launches 2015-2016 Sustainability Report

Sabah-based Hap Seng Plantations has launched its second sustainability report. Based on the Global Reporting Initiative Standards, the report covers environment, human rights, community engagement and good agricultural practices. Alongside this report, Hap Seng has introduced its Sustainability Agriculture Policy, outlining the company’s ambition and commitments as a responsible palm oil producer.

Download the report here and the Sustainability Agriculture Policy here.

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One way forward for No Deforestation commitments

by Rikke Netterstrom

In response to a decade of debate around the role of the agriculture sector in protecting forests, many companies operating in, or sourcing from, tropical forest landscapes have adopted policies to eliminate deforestation from their operations and supply chains.  Several tools that define what areas can be converted to plantations or industrial agriculture have been developed, including GHG emissions assessments, and High Conservation Values (HCV). However, many stakeholders believe that these tools are valuable, but that they do not fully address deforestation, and that there is a need for an approach that provides clearer guidance on which natural forest is to be protected and on how to implement a ‘no deforestation’ policy commitment while simultaneously respecting human rights and ensuring the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples and local communities.

The High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) was developed to meet this need, using a combination of remote sensing analysis and field plots to identify areas that have vegetation classes with the structure, composition and density to maintain and restore themselves as natural forest ecosystems, as well as functioning as natural carbon stores and maintaining high levels of biodiversity. The HCSA also applies FPIC procedures and conservation planning tools to the identified HCS forest areas and combines with HCV, peatland and riparian areas to micro-delineate areas for conservation, restoration, community land, and/or areas potentially available for plantation development.

Since first being conceived in 2011 in a partnership between Golden Agri-Resources, Greenpeace and TFT, dozens of companies in the palm oil, pulp and paper and rubber sectors have applied or committed to using this approach. Members of the governing body of the HCSA, the HCS Approach Steering Group, now include corporate giants such as APP, Wilmar, Unilever, BASF and P&G, alongside global NGOs such as WWF, Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists. This group provides oversight and governance of the HCS Approach to ensure its scientifically-grounded development and application in the field.

However, in 2015, the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto, a group consisting of major palm oil growers undertook to develop an alternative approach, which was supported by leading scientists, and which focused on addressing socio-economic concerns related to forest-set-asides, and on determining a carbon neutral approach towards development.

For many observers and stakeholders, the existence of two separate methodologies cause confusion, and have likely also provided slow movers with an excuse to avoid a No Deforestation commitment, using the classic excused of ‘disagreement among scientists’ to defer commitments.

So when the two approaches announced last week that they had, in fact, reached a convergence agreement, it may well have been a historic day for forest protection. Following a year of intensive work, the two groups agreed on a single, coherent set of principles for implementation of companies’ commitments to “no deforestation”.

The timing of this announcement is also critical. In 2018, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil will be updating its certification standard, the RSPO Principles and Criteria, and the review process will begin in 2017. With most leading palm oil companies now committed to the new unified HCS Approach, there is an opportunity to seek inclusion of HCS into the RSPO standard, making it mandatory for new oil palm developments. And if this can be achieved, the path may well become easier for the introduction of the HCSA into other commodity certification schemes, such as the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Natural Rubber Initiative.

The road ahead is still fraught with challenges and complexities, particularly on issues such as highly forested landscapes with big development needs, as well as ensuring that HCS does not lead to smallholder exclusion. However, a big first step has been taken in truly creating joint action to prevent deforestation.

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Brazilian Agropalma publishes 2014/15 Sustainability Report

One of the World’s undisputed leaders within sustainable agriculture, Brazil-based Agropalma has released its second sustainability report, covering the calendar year 2014/15. The report provides an overview of Agropalma’s efforts to safeguard worker rights and support communities and smallholders, the company’s adherence to the Palm Oil Innovation Group Charter, as well as the significant work going into the protection of natural habitats in the company’s native Amazon region. Download the report here.

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Wilmar International launches 2014/15 Sustainability Report

Titled “Focused on Driving Value”, the Singapore based company’s fourth Sustainability Report centres on a commitment to value creation through sustainable business practices. The report documents the progress the Group has made in the last two years under review. Wilmar has been working closely with its suppliers, partners, non-governmental organisations (NGO), local communities, and government agencies to implement its Integrated Policy of “No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation” (NDPE) to steer the palm oil industry towards responsible and sustainable practices. Download the report here.

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First Resources launches 2015 Sustainability Report

First Resources Ltd is a vertically integrated producer of crude palm oil (CPO) and refined palm oil products listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX). In their third bi-ennial sustainability report covering 2014-15, the company accounts for progress and challenges in implementing their ambitious No deforestation, No peat, No exploitation policy from 2015 which sees strong commitments to conserve peat, high carbon stock forest and HCV. Download the report here.

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Conservation and development – how to resolve the dilemmas?

The discussion on the rights of developing countries to make use of natural resources to enhance development goes back many decades. Is it really right for countries who have already destroyed much of their forests and biodiversity to ask poorer nations to refrain from doing the same?

Papua in Indonesia is exactly such as example. The province lags significantly behind on almost every development indicator; immunization levels of less than half the national average; literacy at 65% vs 90%+ in all other provinces, a lower population-to-school ration than anywhere else, and income inequality levels soaring.

Yet Papua has tremendous riches in the form of an enormous, but sparsely populated land mass, covered in some of the world’s most unique and undisturbed forests. Although not known for flagship species like orang-utans or tigers, Papua is home to thousands of species endemic flora and fauna.

Using existing tools and frameworks to assess development opportunities creates a tremendous dilemma. A large proportion of the undeveloped parts of province contains high conservation values such as endemic and vulnerable wildlife, as well as high carbon stock areas such peat swamp forests and primary forest. For environmentalists, the destruction of such areas for agricultural, extractive and industrial development is a definite no-go, and by extension any company wishing to operate in the area are likely to come under activist pressure.

So what are the options for bringing improvements in livelihoods to the people of regions such as Papua? Initiatives such as the UN-led REDD+ have tried to address the need to incentivise forest protection by enhancing the financial value of conserving landscapes. Private sector actors are also identifying alternative means of non-timber-product business, such as identifying and collecting naturally occurring plants for medicinal usage, or growing small patches of bamboo and other grasses for furniture and basket-making.

However, critics say that such initiatives move too slowly and do not provide the scale necessary to significantly enhance access to schools, medical facilities and increased economic benefits. In the case of Papua, an estimated birthrate of 2.9 means a rapidly growing population, which in turn creates pressures on local resources, forest degradation, poaching and water pollution. In other words – without other economic options, the environment will suffer – even in the absence of planned development.

National and provincial governments will also question the rights of ‘outsiders’ to determine the sovereign prerogative of a nation to use its land as it sees fit, for the betterment of the people. Pointing to initiatives such as the Malaysian land settlement scheme FELDA, which lifted millions out of poverty in the 1960s, governments say that they too have a right to enhance opportunities for their people. The counter argument is that such schemes have often benefitted ‘outsiders’ by bringing poor populations from other parts of the region into the area, creating conflict and marginalising the original inhabitants who end up seeing little benefit but vast cultural disruption.

So what should responsible business do? The easiest option is to stay away from such problematic ‘high forest cover landscapes’. Indeed this is what most responsible businesses are now doing. However, this does not mean that the imperative goes away, and as responsible business turns their back, governments proceed with issuing concessions, but to less scrupulous companies with no commitment to Free, Prior, Informed Consent processes, high carbon stock assessment or conservation of HCV areas.

Several initiatives such as the High Carbon Stock Approach Steering Group as well as the High Carbon Stock Study are trying to grapple with the issue as an integrated part of forest protection and carbon reduction, attempting to provide better guidance for companies. For now, however, sustainability advocates have no answers, and in the South-east Asia sustainable development context (and in many parts of Africa), this is possibly the most burning issue standing between the ‘meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

The dilemmas explored here will be unpacked in greater detail at an interactive debate at the 2015 CSR Asia Summit held in Kuala Lumpur 7-8 October. Drawing on the experience of both the debate leaders and the delegates, the debate will seek to map the issues and possible solutions, taking one step towards fewer trade-offs and more benefits for forest communities.

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