On June 24, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) gave the five member companies 48 hours to submit images of their plantations, after hundreds of fires on peat land across the Indonesian island of Sumatra caused hazardous levels of pollution across the region. Several media outlets blamed palm oil companies for illegal forest burning to clear land - an accusation that could affect palm oil producers' credibility among eco-sensitive European food companies.
RSPO member companies are explicitly forbidden from using fire in their operations.
The five RSPO-certified companies – Sime Darby, Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK), Golden Agri Resources (GAR), Tabung Haji Plantations, and PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa – have all submitted digital maps, showing that a handful of fires were on RSPO member companies’ land, but none lasted more than 24 hours.
Peat fires have been known to burn for months, or even to smoulder for years.
The RSPO analysed the fire alerts alongside separate, independent analysis, and found that there were six fires within Sime Darby’s concession boundaries, three within GAR’s, and one within KLK’s. No fires were found within Tabung Haji Plantations’ boundaries, and the data submitted by PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa were not in an appropriate format; the RSPO has asked it to resend its data.
The maps submitted and analysed covered areas that were highlighted as potential areas of concern by the media and others. However, the companies themselves and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry do not agree on the exact boundaries of the plantations.
“Public transparency on issues of land use and land ownership is essential to addressing the question of responsibility for fires the annual haze problem,” the RSPO said in a statement. “Companies and governments should work together to provide consistent concession boundaries to the public, including concessions not certified by the RSPO.”
The World Resources Institute estimates that illegal burning of peat land is responsible for about 20% of Indonesian forest fires.