In a huge environmental and human rights victory, World Bank to stop giving palm oil loans

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private arm of the World Bank, has decided to suspend funding in the palm oil sector, affecting the world’s top producer, Wilmar International, pending a review of internal procedures on environmental and social standards…

A group of 19 environmental groups, plantation smallholders and local organizations representing indigenous people filed in 2007 a complaint to the IFC ombudsman over Wilmar’s business practices in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Jakarta Post

The destruction of rainforests for palm oil plantations in the world’s tropical regions is one of the biggest environmental problems in the world.  This is a huge step forward, and one of the only bits of encouraging news ever received, for those who know of the destruction of palm oil and work against it.

Go below the fold for more detail and some background info.

Crossposted at,, and

According to Reuters, “IFC currently has $132 million invested in palm oil projects in Asia, central America, Ukraine and West Africa.”

The most immediate consequence of this victory is the denial of a $33.3 million dollar loan to Wilmar international, a “top producer” of palm oil.  Also from the Jakarta Post:

The IFC statement also reported that the ombudsman had succeeded in encouraging Wilmar and local community members to pursue a dialogue to help resolve local conflicts.

As a result, Wilmar has instigated a moratorium on further land clearance and has agreed to compensate households for the appropriation of land.

And from the activists’ point of view, here’s a bit of a statement from Survival International:

The decision was made less than a month after a World Bank internal report concluded its loans to the Wilmar oil palm trading group, operating in Indonesia, were violating the Bank’s own social and environmental standards. The report was triggered by a complaint from Sawit Watch and other organisations.

‘When we filed our complaint we noted that Wilmar subsidiaries were illegally using fire to clear primary forests and high conservation value areas and seizing indigenous peoples’ lands without their free, prior and informed consent, triggering serious conflicts. (The internal) report shows that the IFC (the World Bank’s private funding arm) overrode its standards,’ said a Sawit Watch spokesperson, quoted by the FPP.

For some background of the palm oil crisis, you can take a look at the two diaries I wrote about it a few months back.  Here’s an excerpt of each.

Are your Skittles destroying the rainforest? Part 1:

Let’s start with a basic statement, and add more to it as we go:

The rainforest is being cleared at an alarming rate to make room for palm plantations.

The rainforest is being cleared at an alarming rate, particularly in Southeast Asia, to make room for palm plantations.

The rainforest is being cleared at an alarming rate, particularly in Southeast Asia, to make room for palm plantations.  Many species – both discovered and undiscovered – are being driven to extinction because of habitat loss.

The rainforest is being cleared at an alarming rate, particularly in Southeast Asia, to make room for palm plantations.  Many species – both discovered and undiscovered – are being driven to extinction because of habitat loss.  The most notable is the orangutan, which could become extinct within the decade because of deforestation in Malaysia, Borneo, and Indonesia….

The thing that you can do right now that will have the most impact is to stop buying products with palm ingredients in them.  This will reduce the demand for them and send a message to companies that use them.  There are so many products with palm in them that you have to be ever vigilant at the supermarket, drugstore, convenience store, etc.  Below I’ve listed just a few off the top of my head:


Good Humor chipwiches

Wasa crackers

Trader Joe’s chocolate chip cookies

Newman’s Own Oreos

Clearasil face wash

Kit Kats

Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets

A comment from user jayden:  “Kellog’s Eggo Nutri-grain whole wheat waffles have both palm oil and palm kernel listed in the ingredients.”

A comment from user BattleAngel:  “Noooo! Not my beloved Cheez-Its. They also contain palm oil as well as almost everything made by Little Debbie.”

And here’s a bit of part 2:

First, it’s extremely hard to tell what products palm oil is in.  Palm oil can be labeled on a list of ingredients anything from “palm oil” to “palm kernel oil” to “cetyl alcohol” to “sodium laureth sulfate” to plain old “vegetable oil.”  And a lot of things that palm oil appears as can also be from other kinds of vegetables.  For instance, “vegetable oil” can be from palm or canola or olives or many other plants.  And with palm oil being in one out of ten consumer products, there is little hope of avoiding it completely.

Second, there’s the biodiesel problem.  The majority of demand for palm oil is for the biodiesel market.  Ironically, this fuel that is supposed to help the environment is actually more detrimental than gasoline.

But palm oil isn’t just bad for the environment.  It’s also a human rights disaster, as this National Geographic article shows:

They are of the Kenyah tribe, and they moved here last year. Before, they lived in a village called Long Noran on the Wahau River, in the interior of Borneo. The forest there is long gone, cut by a big timber company once owned by the notorious Bob Hasan, a Suharto crony and former government minister who was later convicted of corruption. With only scrub left, the entire area around their village, which stood inside the company’s timber concession, burned in massive fires in 1997-98. The blazes were ignited by companies preparing land for plantations and spread rapidly to neighboring land during a season of drought.

“We had gardens, fruit trees, rubber trees, and vegetable fields, all burned,” Udan Usat says. “There was conflict with the timber company. They accused us of starting the fires, but we didn’t do it. The fires came from far away.”

This is good news.  With the emergence of eco-tourism, a new climate change agreement soon, and new and creative efforts to save the rainforest, I am hopeful.


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    • rossl on September 21, 2009 at 23:57

    I mean, how many ponies can you fit in a jar?

  1. on this Team Earth they’re launching today.

    Slightly OT… my apologies.

    Harrison Ford was on GMA about it this morning. I like him, (most women my age do.)

    Team … look at all those corporate partners. Starbucks? Marriot, Dell…

    oh look its on huff post too.

  2. subject, and I applaud you.  Here are my thoughts, limited such as they are.

    I believe that there is an important place for biofuels for our energy requirements, and that they could serve an important niche.  However, the wholesale use of land that otherwise is better utilized for food production (as in the case of corn) or for environmental stability (as in this case) is unwise.  That is not to say that there are some beneficial uses for either, but the willy-nilly “development” of such alternatives is often destructive.

    The environmental impacts that you described are significant  and important, and it will take decades to reverse the damage when (or if) the folly is discovered.  Better to keep those areas more in sync with a self sustaining planet.

    That is not to say, and I hasten to emphasize, that biofuels are “bad”.  On the contrary, they are good, because they have, more than other burnable fuels, a close to neutral carbon balance, depending on how smart they are implemented.

    I fancy the use of what is essentially wasteland to produce algae and convert those cells to fuel.  Looking just a tad further, the exhaust from fossil fuel power plants could be used to feed those organisms, thus reducing the cost of sequestering carbon (a Quixotic task as far as I am concerned, if you are talking about compressing it and storing it underground, because even if it worked the costs would be too great) by recycling it.  Now there is a novel concept!

    Nice essay.  Please think about crossposting it so that it will get more attention.

    Warmest regards,


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