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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Hap Seng Plantations launches first Sustainability Report

Sabah-based Hap Seng Plantations is the latest palm oil company to issue a stand-alone sustainability report. Based on the Global Reporting Initiative G4, the report covers social and environmental aspects, including detailed carbon foorprint data and an account on expansion policies.

Click here to download the report.

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Bumitama releases inaugural sustainability report and ambitious forest policy

Indonesian palm oil grower Bumitama has released their inaugural sustainability report in partnership with a revised and very ambitious sustainability policy for the company’s palm oil operations in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

The report and policy outlines Bumitama’s commitment to avoid deforestation, conflict and exploitation through the use of the High Carbon Stock Approach, robust HCV assessments and a renewed grievance mechanism.

The report can be downloaded here and the policy is available from the company’s website.

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Zero deforestation in the supply chain – new approaches

by Rikke Netterstrom

Over the past years, the drive to end deforestation has gained strong momentum. Your child’s Barbie doll is now wrapped in deforestation-free packaging, your favourite donut brands Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts have stepped up commitments and plans to end deforestation and in the bathroom, your Old Spice deodorant and Dove shower gel can be indulged without worrying about threats to the habitats of tigers and orang-utans. Previously sceptical NGOs are now starting to recognise these commitments; in June 2015, the hashtag #Nutellagate trended as Greenpeace publicly corrected a French Minister who had advocated a palm oil boycott, and defended the beloved hazelnut spread on social media. On the commodity producer side, the palm oil industry has taken the lead – with large-scale traders and growers such as Cargill and Wilmar leading the way and many smaller producers following suit. In July, First Resources, a company with a controversial past, became the latest palm oil producer to commit to a zero deforestation policy and others are reportedly finalising policies banning deforestation and development on peat. Beyond palm oil, the pulp and paper industry are also coming on board. Asia Pulp and Paper blazed the trail with their 2012 commitment, and in June 2015 APRIL joined the fray.

This is great news for the campaigners who have worked tirelessly to push towards explicit policies – but now the real work begins and these companies will need to ensure and prove that illegal and irresponsible products do not make their way into their complex supply chains.

One of the methodologies gaining real traction is the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach, originally developed in 2011-2012 in response to a clear need for a practical and cost-effective way forward for implementing No Deforestation commitments. The methodology is a breakthrough that allows prevention of greenhouse gas emissions combined with biodiversity conservation with the aim of conserving ecologically viable areas of natural forest. It is a land-use planning tool that identifies degraded lands on which it is possible to continue the expansion of oil palm, pulp and paper or rubber plantations, subject to legal requirements and free, prior and informed consent from communities. In guiding practitioners through scientifically based methods in stratifying and classifying vegetative cover, the HCS Approach addresses the problems of broad definitions of ‘forest’ and poorly identified conservation areas.

Companies can adopt the approach through the use of the HCS Approach Toolkit, which was designed to provide complete technical guidance for the practical implementation of the HCS methodology. The Toolkit enables experienced practitioners to undertake their own HCS assessments, integrate them with other tools such as High Conservation Value assessments and Free, Prior and Informed Consent principles, and create an integrated land use plan for a plantation concession in a forested area. It is a simple tool that takes practitioners through the steps in identifying HCS forest, from initial stratification of the vegetation using satellite images and field plots to making the final conservation and land use map.

The HCS Approach Toolkit was launched in March of 2015, and has been tested in pilot palm oil and pulp and paper concessions in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Liberia. Various consumer companies including Mars, Nestle, Colgate Palmolive and Unilever, refer to the HCS methodology in their responsible sourcing policies. To ensure the methodology and Toolkit is consistently followed, a set of quality assurance requirements is currently being developed. These requirements will include transparency of reports and maps, independent expert reviews and 3rd party assessments.

Almost as important as the tools to identify and classify forest is the ability to monitor compliance and progress and flag where commitments are not being met. Global Forest Watch (GFW) is an interactive online forest monitoring and alert system designed to provide this information. GFW uses cutting edge technology and science to provide timely and precise information about the status of forest landscapes worldwide, including near-real-time alerts showing suspected locations of recent tree cover loss. GFW is free and simple to use, enabling anyone to create custom maps, analyze forest trends, subscribe to alerts, or download data for their local area or the entire world. Users can also contribute to GFW by sharing data and stories from the ground via GFW’s crowdsourcing tools, blogs, and discussion groups. Special “apps” provide detailed information for companies that wish to reduce the risk of deforestation in their supply chains, users who want to monitor fires across Southeast Asia, and more.

GFW is a growing partnership of organisations contributing data, technology, funding, and expertise. The GFW partnership is convened by the World Resources Institute.

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REA Holdings releases 2014 Sustainability Report

REA Sustainability Report 2014

REA Holdings has released their second Sustainability Report, covering the financial years 2013 and 2014. The report describes the great strides made by the London-listed palm oil company in its operations in East Kalimantan. The report is aligned to the GRI G4 Guidelines and Helikonia provided strategic guidance throughout the report development.

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Fuji Xerox Malaysia publishes 2014 Sustainability Report

FXMY SR 2014

Fuji Xerox Malaysia has released their second Sustainability Report, covering the calendar year 2014. The report seeks to present the company’s performance relative to the wider sustainability context both in Malaysia and in the region. With rising energy costs and onset of global warming, many businesses now recognize the benefits of using green technology. With the goal of reducing their impact on the environment, companies are finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint and minimise waste. In line with the Malaysian government’s commitment and focus on sustainability, the company illustrates throughout the report its concerted effort to practise and encourage our customers to embrace green technology.

Download the report here

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Are human rights relevant to Malaysian business?

by Esther Teh

Globally, human rights have been recognised as a critical part of responsible business. With the launch of the United Nation’s (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, it was clearly reiterated that companies have a responsibility to avoid human rights abuses resulting from their own activities or in their supply chains. The UN Global Compact’s Principle 1 & 2 on human rights also call on business to develop an awareness of human rights and to use their sphere of influence to uphold these universal values.

In Malaysia, human rights impacts of business have not been widely discussed or addressed. However, in the past year the role of business in upholding, respecting and promoting human rights have been highlighted. In June, Malaysia’s position was downgraded from the Tier 2 ‘Watch list’ to Tier 3 in the United States’ State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report due to issues such as forced labour in the Malaysian electronics and garment industrychild labour in the palm oil industryexploitation of migrant workers at vegetable farms in Cameron Highlandstreatment of local timber workers and in the mining industry in Sarawak.

In addition to the human tragedy of these stories, which cannot be underestimated, there is also tremendous damage involved for Malaysia’s reputation and international companies’ loss of faith in Malaysian businesses in their supply chain that can have tremendous commercial impacts.

This year’s international Human Rights Day, celebrated last week promotes the theme ‘Human Rights 365’. It is a timely reminder for companies to note that human rights is an everyday issue, and not just something to look at once a year. Businesses have an enormous potential to create opportunities and improve life chances for many whether in terms of equality, security or even personal, economic, social and cultural freedoms.

Companies can take these practical steps to address human rights issues:

Map potential issues and manage the risk. More and more businesses are coming to realise their legal, moral and economic need to address human rights issues within their own activities and their business relationships. As part of a company’s responsibility to respect human rights, companies are expected not only to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts, but also to address human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products, or services by their business relationships, even if the company has not contributed to those impacts.

Develop human rights policy and communicate publicly. UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rightsstate the following in guiding principle 16: “As the basis for embedding their responsibility to respect human rights, business enterprises should express their commitment to meet this responsibility through a statement of policy”. Many companies have communicated publicly their company policy statement on human rights. This may not necessarily be enough to ward of human rights issues but at least being proactive will prepare companies to effectively deal with crises, when they happen. Many tools and resources are available to help guide companies.

Keep your ear to the ground and get on the ground. Companies need to understand and assess the actual and potential impact on human rights through their business activities by engaging internal and external stakeholders. Companies need to know what is going on in their business operation and supply chain not just through asking the suppliers the right questions and auditing but seeing the real situation.

The understanding and integration of human rights in business practice will strengthen the positive role that business can play towards a sustainable and inclusive global economy in which human rights are fully respected.

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We are looking for a Project Manager

Sustainability Project Manager

Helikonia is looking for a Project Manager to support our client work on sustainability and stakeholder engagement work.

Helikonia develops sustainability reports and policies, and supports a wide range of organisations in working together on projects related to deforestation and human rights. We are a small team based in Kuala Lumpur, but have a large network of colleagues across the world who we work with in virtual teams.

We are looking for a passionate individual to support this work starting in mid-February. The job scope will be constantly evolving, depending on client projects and your own performance, but will focus on:

  • Supporting multistakeholder groups, organising meetings, taking minutes, developing briefings, updating websites and managing workstreams and consultations
  • Drafting sustainability reports to a high standard in accordance with international guidance
  • Supporting events, such as trainings and conferences hosted by Helikonia and our partners

We hope to get a colleague who is:

  • Flexible: You will be working closely with large teams across the world, so it is essential that you are flexible about working hours to accommodate time zone differences.
  • Adaptable: Job priorities and requirements may change and require you to learn new software skills or familiarise yourself with new topics outside your field of expertise
  • Meticulous: The quality of our work is essential and we expect each team member to take responsibility for outputs and undertake peer review and quality control of project deliverables

We would expect you to have:

  • A Master’s degree in a field related to sustainable development. This can range from economics, legal, or natural and social sciences, but it is essential that you can work with and analyse complex data as this is required for most projects.
  • At least two years’ experience in a corporate or NGO environment.
  • A high standard of written English ability.
  • Robust experience with MS Office and willingness to learn additional IT skills

What we offer:

  • A friendly working culture as part of a small, energetic team based in KL
  • Opportunities to engage with a large network of companies and international NGOs as part of the job
  • Flexible hours on agreement
  • A competitive salary, health insurance (subject to approval), generous performance-based bonus scheme
  • Opportunity to grow and expand the role: If you do well our flat structure allow for ongoing evolvement of opportunities

If you are interested in this role, please send a cover letter and a CV by 20 January 2015 to

You can download the job posting as a PDF here.

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