Indonesian Activists Abseil Down Palm Refinery Tanks in Deforestation Protest

By Reuters 26 September 2018

JAKARTA — Environmentalists abseiled down storage tanks and unfurled banners at a palm oil refinery in Indonesia on Tuesday in protest at deforestation of the country’s tropical forests.

They draped banners saying “drop dirty palm oil now,” while other activists clung to the anchor of a cargo ship near the facility operated by a unit of Singapore’s Wilmar International, the world’s biggest palm oil trader.

A spokeswoman for refinery operator PT Multi Nabati Sulawesi said operations at the plant in northern Sulawesi were unaffected.

“They are there illegally, so we plan to report them to the police,” she told Reuters.

Wilmar described Greenpeace’s action as “a criminal act of trespassing and vandalism” that posed a safety risk to the activists and Wilmar staff.

“No organization is above the law, and we urge Greenpeace to adopt a collaborative mindset and work with the palm oil industry to take genuine and positive action,” it said in a statement on Tuesday evening.

“We are disappointed with the allegations made by Greenpeace that discredits the genuine efforts and progress made by Wilmar and the palm industry to promote the sustainable development of palm oil.”

Supply chains

Wilmar added that it had a system in place to monitor its supply chains and had previously suspended suppliers for not meeting sustainability requirements.

The 30 activists, including 23 members of campaign group Greenpeace, planned to stay at the facility until 10:00 GMT, said Kiki Taufik, head of the Greenpeace forests campaign in Indonesia.

The demonstration is unusual in the Southeast Asian nation, where most protests take the form of marches or rallies.

“We need to do this without a permit, but we take the risk because we believe this action will make the companies and the public hear us,” Taufik said by mobile phone from a rubber dinghy circling the cargo ship moored near the refinery.

Indonesia is the world’s top producer of palm oil, an edible oil used in everything from chocolate to shampoo. Concerns about the amount of forest and peatland cleared for plantations have plagued the palm oil industry for years.

The president’s office last week issued a moratorium on new permits for palm plantations for three years in what it said was part of an effort to protect forests.

Environmentalists have increased pressure on companies and governments in Indonesia and Malaysia to “clean up” their supply chains and put an end to deforestation.

“If we don’t hold companies accountable, the environment will continue to face a threat from industry,” Taufik said.