Indonesia’s most powerful palm oil company joins push for forest protection

Astra Agro Lestari, considered one of Indonesia’s most politically influential companies, has joined the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP). This moment has been long anticipated.

Astra Agro Lestari joining IPOP is described as a huge breakthrough in the struggle to protect the Indonesian rainforest. Photo: Thomas Marent

17 February 2016

Astra first promised to join IPOP in June 2015 and then reiterated its commitment to do so in September 2015 when it announced its Sustainability Policy.

“Astra Agro Lestari, as Indonesia’s second largest palm oil producer and a part of Astra International, Indonesia’s largest publicly traded company, has a lot of power over the fate of Indonesia’s forests,” said Deborah Lapidus, spokesperson for the Center for International Policy, one of the groups who negotiated with Astra and its parent company Jardines Matheson as it was developing its Sustainability Policy. “Astra joining IPOP is an important signal that it is ready to use its power for good.”

Astra move represents a huge breakthrough

IPOP describes itself as “a partnership of palm oil companies with a mission to create an environment in Indonesia which enables and promotes the production of sustainable palm oil that is deforestation free, expands social benefits, and improves Indonesia’s market competitiveness.” Other IPOP members include Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), Musim Mas, Cargill, Asian Agri, and The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin).

“Astra joining IPOP represents a huge breakthrough. Even the Indonesian palm oil industry leaders who were previously most skeptical of conservation are calling on the government to launch a major push for forests and community rights,” said Azmi Sirajuddin of Yayasan Merah Putih, a community organization in Sulawesi that has been working with other Indonesian organizations to improve Astra’s practices.

RFN: Joint private and public sector action needed

Astra’s director Joko Supriyono serves as Chair of GAPKI, the Indonesian palm oil producers association that has historically opposed government actions to improve the sustainability of the palm oil industry. But Astra’s influential role in GAPKI means it has the opportunity to seek convergence between GAPKI and IPOP’s objectives to create a powerful, unified industry voice working for improved forest governance in Indonesia.

“This type of joint private sector and public sector action to protect forests and peatlands is what is needed to prevent another catastrophic and costly haze crisis in 2016 and beyond,” said Anja Lillegraven of Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN). RFN has worked with both Nordic investors and local communities to encourage Astra to cease deforestation, and also commissioned a major investigation into Astra’s practices by the consultancy AidEnvironment.

“Joining together also makes it easier and more cost-effective for Astra and other companies to engage in landscape-level restoration efforts that begin to reverse some of the harm that has been done in the past.”

Hope Astra will hold meetings with indigenous peoples

The next critical step for Astra is to quickly announce its long-awaited implementation plan for its Forest Conservation Policy which is being developed in partnership with consultancies Daemeter, Rainforest Alliance, and Proforest.

“Now the real work of implementation begins. We hope Astra will move quickly to hold long overdue meetings with the indigenous peoples and community groups displaced by its previous planation development, including the Orang Rimba in Jambi,” said Diki Kurniawan, Executive Director for KKI WARSI, a community organization that works with the Orang Rimba, an indigenous community in Sumatra whose forest was cleared by Astra for a 75 square mile palm oil plantation. “Astra needs to compensate the Orang Rimba and provide them the opportunity to maintain their culture and live with dignity.”