Greasing palms: tales of corruption in the forestry sector

By | 2018-01-12T09:18:00+00:00 November 8th, 2013|Forests, Southeast Asia, Threats|0 Comments

Indonesia’s 2010 moratorium on logging and new plantations within primary forests and peatlands is often held up as a symbol of hope for tropical forest conservation.

In reality, it has been poorly observed and is therefore, largely ineffective: figures produced by Human Rights Watch suggest that illegal logging – costing the country an estimated 2 billion USD in 2011 alone – continues apace, with off-the-books deals devastating the country’s coffers, its forests and the lives of the species (including the country’s poorest people) who live as part of them.

Meanwhile, despite the use of donor money to create national parks in Borneo, many of the island’s remaining forest fragments are now threatened.

Invariably, the loss of forests – whether or not they fall within protected areas – leads to conflict, triggering widespread environmental and social injustice. Our partner, Forest Peoples Programme, has just published a report with Sawit Watch and TUK Indonesia entitled ‘Conflict or Consent? The oil palm sector at a crossroads’

Based on 16 case-studies from around the world, the report highlights that many of the large agri-business companies who have signed up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – an industry body set up in 2004 to create ethical standards – are falling short of the commitments they have made towards indigenous people and local communities.

Infographic: Losses due to illegal logging in Indonesia, Human Rights Watch.

So if voluntary schemes like RSPO and full protection can’t halt the pace of deforestation, what can?

An obvious answer is to enforce existing laws and commitments across the sector, holding the actors who break them to account. However, this is hard to achieve without taking concrete steps, which is why we support partners to:

1) improve national laws and international governance across the forestry sector, empowering local communities to challenge unlawful land-deals;

2) devise new approaches to forest conservation and management that address the problems associated with failed paradigms;

3) provide greater transparency of information so that investors can be assured that the natural resources they buy and sell are conflict-free; and

4) highlight the interconnection between biological and cultural diversity and protect both.

Ultimately, the greatest driver of threats to forest species and people is corruption – a common root-cause of other serious problems from poverty to starvation. Tackling it is the bottom-line of effective conservation.