After drone footage of forest destruction goes viral, another palm oil firm promises to go deforestation-free

"She's not a fan" campaign by Forest Heroes.
© "She's not a fan" campaign by Forest Heroes.

Palm oil producer Astra Agro Lestari seems to have gotten the message after a Forest Heroes campaign targeted their parent company’s luxury hotels.

Less than a month ago, the environmental watchdog group Forest Heroes launched a campaign targeting the Indonesian palm oil producer Astra Agro Lestari, and its parent company Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. The Hong Kong-based parent company is also the owner of the luxury hotel chain Mandarin Oriental. The environmentalists played on the hotels’ “She’s a fan” advertisements featuring celebrities. Forest Heroes created the slogan “She’s not a fan,” with images of endangered Sumatran elephants, one of the animals threatened by the loss of habitat associated with the expansion of palm oil plantations.

The campaign also featured drone video footage revealing the deforestation happening on the company’s concessions. According to Forest Heroes, Astra Agro has cleared 14,000 hectares of forest since 2007 and cleared 27,000 hectares of peatland in Indonesia. Converting both forests and peatlands for agricultural use can have major negative consequences for global climate change, because both types of habitats play an important role in carbon sequestration.

The good news is that the campaign seems to have gotten the message across. Yesterday, Astra Agro released a statement promising a memorandum on all conversion, and “will ensure that there will be no clearance of any natural forest either by the Company or any of its contractors across all its operations in Indonesia.”

Ensuring that the company keeps its promise will be a challenge. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has found that another palm oil producer, Golden Agri-Resources—the largest producer in the country, has failed to keep its pledges to stop deforestation and has committed a number of human rights violations.

However, environmental activists will continue to monitor Astra Agro’s activities in Indonesia. “People around the world and endangered elephants are celebrating today,” said Hanna Thomas, palm oil campaigner with in a press statement. “But we will be watching closely to ensure that lasting change is made on the ground.”

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