The move from GAR and its subsidiaries, including PT Smart, follows the release of report from Greenpeace last year alleging that GAR’s parent group Sinar Mas was engaged in widespread illegal deforestation and peatland clearance in the region.
The international campaigners remain cautious however.
“Today’s move could signal the start of a shift throughout the industry, and eventually lead to full forest and peatland protection,” said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace’s campaign to protect Indonesian forests.
“On paper, the new commitments from Golden Agri are a major step towards ending their involvement in deforestation. And if they do make these changes, large areas of forests will be saved. But now they’ve actually got to implement these plans, and we’re watching closely to make sure this happens,” he added.
GAR hasdeveloped a Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) in collaboration with The Forest Trust (TFT)to ensure that it has no deforestation footprint. The policy aims to protect “High Carbon Storage” forest and promotes non-development on "High Conservation Value" forest areas and peat lands.
In 2009, food giant Unilever cancelled its €30m palm oil contract with GAR following Greenpeace’s report, Illegal forest clearance and Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) greenwash: Case studies of Sinar Mas.
According to the report, the company was “…engaging in practices which release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and help Indonesia win the title of the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, after China and the US.”
Greenpeace alleged that Mas’s actions broke Indonesian law and highlighted how membership of the RSPO alone was not sufficient proof of a company’s environmental credentials.
At the time, Unilever spokesperson told sister site FoodNavigator.com: “The Greenpeace claims about (PT Smart) breaking RSPO guidelines are too serious for us to ignore.”
Marc Engel, the company’s chief procurement officer, added: “Unilever is committed to sustainable sourcing. Therefore, we have notified PT Smart that we have no choice but to suspend our future purchasing of palm oil.”
“If PT Smart is able to come forward with concrete proof that they are not involved in unacceptable environmental practices then we would certainly re-consider our position.”
Around three-quarters of the world's oil palm is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia where much of the recent expansion of the industry has been onto peatland and into tropical rainforest, according to Unilever.
Greenpeace spokesperson Maitar said the need for other palm oil producers to clean up their act was now “pressing”, for business and environmental reasons.
“The [Indondesian] government must back efforts like those announced today by insisting on similar standards across industries operating in forest areas,” he said.