Palm oil giant Korindo Group has seen its Forest Stewardship Council membership terminated, a move activists say sends a signal to other companies that they cannot hide their misdeeds behind green certification.

The FSC, considered the first organization in the world to certify the sustainable forest industry, announced on July 14 that it had terminated its association with Korindo, an Indonesian-South Korean joint venture, because the company did not had not reached an agreement with the certification body on how to independently verify its compliance.

The unbundling will take effect on October 16.

Prior to the termination, Korindo was in the process of retaining his FSC membership after a two-year investigation by the board revealed a litany of violations in the company’s operations in Indonesia’s easternmost province, Papua.

Papua is home to Indonesia’s largest untouched rainforest and one of the most climate-significant landscapes in the world.

Korindo’s violations included the inability to properly consult with local communities on plans to convert their lands into oil palm plantations; unjust compensation for communities; and the clearing of 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of tropical forest, some of which have high conservation value (HCV).

The FSC said after the findings that Korindo could retain his membership but must “get redress” for the damage he caused in Papua and make significant social and environmental improvements, as set out in a set of preliminary conditions defined by the council. in 2019.

However, “FSC and Korindo could not agree on a process for appointing an auditor and verifying performance indicators,” FSC told Mongabay in an email.

Due to this disagreement, there were delays in FSC’s ability to verify and report Korindo’s progress against these terms, which led to the decision to terminate Korindo’s membership, a said FSC Managing Director Kim Carstensen.

“It had become an untenable situation for FSC that we were not able to verify the improvements in Korindo’s social and environmental performance against the agreed prerequisites. This is why the board of directors decided to disassociate themselves, ”said Carstensen. “We believe this will give us clarity and a breath of fresh air as Korindo continues its efforts to improve its social and environmental performance. “

Kwangyul Peck, director of sustainability at Korindo, said the company was caught off guard by the move.

“The decision to stop the association’s proceedings was a big surprise as we have completed all the stages of the mutually agreed roadmap over the past few years,” he said in a press release.

Korindo said the termination is only a temporary situation as he seeks to reactivate his association process with FSC as soon as possible.

The FSC said it is committed to working with Korindo to re-enter a formal process to potentially end the dissociation, which could begin in 2022. The process will be based on the requirements set out in the FSC policy. for the association remediation procedure, which is currently under development. .

As Korindo waits to return to FSC, the company said it remains committed to sustainability and human rights as part of its environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies.

“In the context of Korindo’s clear commitment to ESG and sustainability, we would like to underline the joint commitment of FSC and the Korindo Group, to re-enter the association process as soon as possible,” said the vice-president. Korindo president, Seo Jeongsik. “Our goal is always to unconditionally partner with FSC and we will continue to move forward on the defined roadmap. “

No longer hide

Despite Korindo’s claim that he abides by environmental and human rights standards, the termination of his FSC membership indicates otherwise, according to the US-based campaign organization Mighty Earth, which d ‘first highlighted Korindo’s practices in Papua and reported the company to FSC in 2017.

“Korindo’s expulsion by the FSC provides further proof that despite all its grandiose claims that it embraces sustainability, the company still cannot mobilize to meet the basic standards for an eco-friendly business in the world. 21st century, ”said Annisa Rahmawati, environmental advocate at Mighty. Earth.

And with Korindo’s dissociation from FSC, the company can no longer use the certification board tree logo, which aims to tell consumers that the product is sustainably sourced and produced.

“Although the FSC found that Korindo had violated its policy through extensive deforestation and violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, Korindo continued to disseminate false information about the seriousness of his actions and used his continued association with the FSC to green its bad practices, ”said Rahmawati. noted. “With today’s announcement, Korindo can no longer hide behind the FSC.”

Korindo’s dissociation is also a lesson for other companies that engage in unsustainable practices, she added.

“The FSC decision should serve as a warning to any company that thinks it can use greenwashing and legal intimidation to destroy forests and trample on the rights of indigenous communities with impunity,” Rahmawati said.

In addition to allegations of human rights violations and deforestation, Korindo was also at the center of an investigation which revealed a $ 22 million “consultancy” payment made by the company and which played a role in its rapid expansion. in Papua.

The investigation, a collaboration between Mongabay, The Gecko Project, the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa and Al Jazeera, found the payment was made to an obscure figure as Korindo secured the rights to vast areas of land in the province.

Mighty Earth said another indication that Korindo is not serious about meeting its sustainability commitments is a 2020 libel lawsuit filed by a Korindo supplier in Germany against civil society organizations who campaigned against the company.

Mighty Earth said the lawsuit is an example of what’s called a Strategic Public Participation Lawsuit, or SLAPP. This is a form of litigation that usually has little or no merit and is brought for the primary purpose of harassing and draining substantial resources from critics who speak out against those in power or on matters of public interest.

“Korindo is clearly not acting in good faith,” said Hye Lyn Kim, activist for the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements. “If Korindo is serious about improving its environmental and human rights performance to address its violations of FSC standards, it must restore the forest habitat it destroyed, repay the affected Papuan indigenous communities and end its legal harassment of civil society groups who have tried to resist its abuse.

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.

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