Non-governmental environmental organization Greenpeace blocked all import and export channels of crude palm oil (CPO) trader IOI on Tuesday morning (27/09) in the harbor of Rotterdam (the Netherlands), the city that acts as palm oil’s gateway into Europe. Greenpeace activists decided to take action after a Greenpeace International report showed that palm oil from companies that are reportedly involved in forest destruction, peatland fires and child labor is still flowing into Europe and the USA through IOI facilities.
The IOI Group is one of the world's leading global integrated palm oil players as well as one of the largest property development investment firms in Malaysia. However, the plantation business segment constitutes the core business of the IOI Group which contributes between 55 - 60 percent to its corporate earnings.
Greenpeace ship Esperanza moored to the dock at the back of the refinery owned by IOI in the harbor of Rotterdam, preventing palm oil from being unloaded from incoming oil tankers. Meanwhile, activists also blocked the road that gives access to the entrance of IOI property at the harbor and therefore more than ten trucks could do nothing more than just wait for further orders.
A press release from Greenpeace states that "two Indonesian men who have been directly affected by forest fires are blocking access to the refinery joint by eight [Greenpeace] activists".
According to Greenpeace IOI suppliers are linked to:
- Destruction of primary forest in Papua and Kalimantan
- Development of palm oil plantations on peatland
- Devastating forest fires that occurred on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan between June and October 2015 (as well as toxic haze that spread to other parts of Southeast Asia).
- Human rights abuses, including child labor
- Non-compliance with the criteria and principles of the sustainability label (RSPO)
Research published in Scientific Reports claims that these forest fires released approximately 11.3 million tons of carbon each day (a figure that exceeds the 8.9 million tons of daily carbon emissions in the whole European Union) and are therefore ranked among the worst natural disasters ever recorded. According to the World Bank more than 100,000 man-made forest fires destroyed 2.6 million hectares of land within the five-month period, costing Indonesia losses of IDR 221 trillion (approx. USD $16 billion or 1.9 percent of the country's gross domestic product). The resulting toxic haze caused an estimated 100,300 premature deaths across Southeast Asia in 2015, according to a Harvard and Columbia study.
Traditionally, Indonesian farmers use slash and burn practices to clear forest for the expansion of palm oil and pulp & paper plantations. Although such practices are illegal, Indonesia's weak law enforcement facilities such destruction of the environment.
Read more: Overview of Indonesia's Palm Oil Industry
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based environmental organization Rainforest Action Network (RAN) released a report in June 2016 that claims Indonesian workers - including children - are being exploited at North Sumatran palm oil plantations owned by PP London Sumatra Indonesia, a unit of Indonesia's Indofood Group.
Key findings of RAN related to workers of Indofood at these palm oil plantations include:
- Long-time workers on these plantations are categorized as temporary workers, implying they lack job security and work for half the salary that is set for permanent workers. Moreover, these workers have to face health and safety risks
- Workers are paid unethically low wages (below the local minimum wage)
- A handful of teenagers (12-16 years) were spotted working at Indofood plantations, implying the existence of child labor
- Workers do not have adequate health and safety equipment. For tasks such as pesticide spraying or fertilizer application it implies health risks. Workers also do not have health insurance nor have easy access to the on-site company clinic
- The freedom of association is being undermined as workers who attempt to join an independent worker union are being intimated