The palm oil industry is luckily becoming more and more targeted for the destruction that it wreaks on the environment as well as wildlife populations and its abuse of indigenous communities. Although some companies are making efforts to shore up conservation and human rights policies, in Indonesia deforestation is continuing. And sadly, it appears as though the devastating impact that palm oil companies stand to have on Indonesia’s vital rainforests is not something that these businesses are unaware of. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

The organization Mighty Earth has recently come across “explicit proof of companies’ foreknowledge of the massive impacts they cause” when it comes to deforestation in the area. The group received the social and environmental impact assessment submitted to the Indonesian government in 2009 as part of the permitting process for establishing PT Bio Inti Agrindo (PT BIA) – a 39,000-hectare palm oil plantation located in Papua, Indonesia’s largest remaining intact rainforest. This company is currently owned by the South Korean conglomerate POSCO Daewoo. Assessments like this one, called AMDALs, are required to be submitted by all palm oil companies in Indonesia – but they are very rarely seen by the public.

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In the assessment, the company fully acknowledges the impacts its development would have on both the environment and the local community – and how devastating they would be. The Indonesian government licensed the company for development in spite of those very results explicitly detailed in the assessment, which highlights the leniency of the permitting process for palm oil at the time.

The negative effects listed in the assessment took dozens of pages. Among them, were:

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  • Polluting the Bian and Fly Rivers with toxic waste, despite acknowledging that the community uses these rivers daily for drinking, bathing, and fishing. While it does state an intent to build a wastewater treatment facility, the report acknowledges that the pollution levels are likely to exceed the facility’s capacity.
  • Destroying the habitat of several protected species, including the tree kangaroo, through the conversion of native forest to monoculture plantation.
  • Increasing the risk for severe public health impacts like the spread of malaria, ISPA (acute respiratory tract infection), and diarrhea due to the water pollution and ecosystem changes.
  • Constructing the palm oil plantation on customary lands.
  • Spurring social restlessness, conflict and anarchy.

Probably unsurprisingly – but tragically – all of the impacts listed by the company actually did come true.

The immense damage caused by the company’s development cannot be reversed – but Mighty Earth calls POSCO Daewoo to “immediately enact a moratorium on forest clearing in order to do no further harm” as well as take responsibility for the negative impacts the development knowingly caused, invest in forest restoration, clean up the rivers, and seek to resolve the social conflict.

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As Mighty Earth points out, palm oil companies, without a doubt, know what they are doing – but rarely do we have a chance to see such an explicit proof of just how perfectly aware they are of the massive destructive effects their activity has. The production of palm oil remains one of the key environmental and wildlife issues of today and considering around 50 percent of all consumer goods contain this cheap, shelf-stable oil, we all play a role in the damage it causes.

To read the full assessment and learn more about Mighty Earth’s work, click here.

If you’re interested in learning how to reduce your personal contribution to this destruction by eliminating palm oil, click here.

Image source: Mighty Earth