Greenpeace occupies dirty palm oil refinery

Greenpeace activists paint "Stop Deforestation Now" onto the hull of a  tanker at the Wilmar International refinery in Bitung, North Sulawesi.

Wilmar International refinery in Bitung, North Sulawesi.

Activists worked for hours to halt the transportation of palm oil from a refinery on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi for twelve hours.

The message to brands like Unilever, Nestlé and Mondelez is simple: cut Wilmar off until it breaks all links with forest destroyers.

For twelve hours thirty Greenpeace volunteers occupied a palm oil refinery belonging to Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader.

Wilmar supplies major brands including Colgate, Mondelez, Nestlé and Unilever. 

The refinery, which is on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, was processing palm oil from major producers that are destroying rainforests in Kalimantan and Papua, Indonesia. 

False promises

Kiki Taufik, head of Greenpeace’s global Indonesia forests campaign said: "Wilmar has been promising to clean up its supply chain since 2013. Yet it is still buying palm oil from forest destroyers.

"It is not Greenpeace’s responsibility to police their supply chain. Wilmar should only buy palm oil from producers it can prove are clean. That is what Wilmar CEO Kuok Khoon Hong promised almost five years ago." 

The Greenpeace team includes volunteers and climbers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, the UK, France and Australia.

One group of  activists climbed the anchor chain of a tanker ship transporting palm oil and are preventing it from moving. Another group scaled the refinery and painted “DIRTY” in five-metre high letters on the storage tanks. 

Severe deforestation

In 2013, Wilmar became the first palm oil trader to adopt a ‘no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation’ policy.

The message to brands like Unilever, Nestlé and Mondelez is simple: cut Wilmar off until it breaks all links with forest destroyers.

But last week, a Greenpeace International investigation revealed that 25 palm oil producers had cleared 130,000ha of rainforest since 2015. Wilmar was buying from 18 of those palm oil groups; three supplied the refinery where the protest is taking place.

Only a fraction of the palm oil that Wilmar trades comes from its own plantations; more than 80 percent comes from other palm oil producers.  

Dal Payne, a climber from the UK taking part in the action said: “This refinery is loaded with Wilmar’s dirty palm oil and if we weren’t here it would be on its way to supermarkets all over the world. Hundreds of thousands of consumers have had enough of forest destruction.

"The message to brands like Unilever, Nestlé and Mondelez is simple: cut Wilmar off until it breaks all links with forest destroyers.”

Forest destroyers

Greenpeace is calling on Wilmar to prove that it no longer sources palm oil from forest destroyers. The first step is to requiring all producer groups in its supply chain to publish mill location data and concession maps for their entire operations and to cut off any that refuse.  

Wilmar International and other palm oil groups are regularly accused of exploiting workers, children and local communities

The plantation sector - palm oil and pulp - is the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia. Around 24 million hectares of rainforest was destroyed in Indonesia between 1990 and 2015, according to official figures released by the Indonesian government. 

Deforestation and peatland destruction are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. This has pushed Indonesia into the top tier of global emitters, alongside the United States of America and China.

Plantation development is a root cause of Indonesia’s forest and peatland fires. In July 2015, devastating blazes spread in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua. These fires produced a haze that affected millions of people across Southeast Asia.

Researchers at Harvard and Columbia Universities estimate that the smoke from 2015 Indonesian fires may have caused 100,000 premature deathsThe World Bank calculated the cost of the disaster at 16 billion US dollars.

This Author 

Marianne Brooker is a contributing editor for The Ecologist. This story is based on a press release from Greenpeace.

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