By Michael Taylor
KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An international green certification body said Indonesian member firm Korindo Group breached its rules on clearing forests to grow oil palm but would not be expelled after a two-year probe.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the main global scheme for sustainable wood-based products, this week rejected accusations by Mighty Earth, a U.S. green organisation, that Jakarta-based Korindo deliberately and illegally set fires to clear land in North Maluku and West Papua in 2015.
The Bonn-based FSC did, however, find that Korindo had converted forests to establish oil palm plantations in Indonesia, destroying trees with a high conservation value.
Kim Carstensen, director general of FSC International, said Korindo had promised to work on constructive solutions to the problem, and kicking out the firm would not help.
"By ensuring that Korindo commits to a set of agreed conditions, FSC is in the position to ensure compliance with our rules, to address inadequate performance in the past, and to evaluate that no further improper activities are taking place," Carstensen added in a statement.
Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest area of tropical forest, but is the fifth-largest emitter of the greenhouse gases widely blamed for global warming, largely due to deforestation.
The Southeast Asian nation is also the biggest producer of palm oil. Environmentalists put much of the blame for forest destruction on land clearance for oil-palm plantations.
Deforestation and forest fires continue to blight the country. A particularly bad fire outbreak in 2015 cost $16 billion and left more than 500,000 people suffering from respiratory ailments.
To maintain its FSC membership, Korindo must uphold a moratorium on forest conversion and deforestation in Indonesia, and achieve FSC certification in all its forestry operations, while complying with rules on indigenous peoples' rights, an FSC spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Deborah Lapidus of Mighty Earth said Korindo had used the FSC's eco-forestry label to "greenwash its destructive practices" for years.
"We hope this means that Korindo's days of abusing the rights of indigenous peoples and systematically destroying vast areas of pristine rainforest with impunity are finally over," she said in a statement.
She urged the company to return customary land, resolve social conflicts, fairly compensate local communities for lost land and resources, and restore damaged ecosystems.
Founded in 1969, Korindo has pulp and paper and renewable energy businesses, as well as timber and oil palm plantations.
On Thursday, it acknowledged that "certain activities were not in full compliance with the provisions" of the FSC's rules, including conversion of forests for its plantations.
But it noted the FSC investigation had concluded Korindo did not set fires and was not involved in illegal activities involving fire.
To date, the FSC has withdrawn its certification from nine companies for breaching its policies on forest management or for working with others that have done so, it said.
(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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