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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nestle "fiasco" continues: Indonesian oil palm planters threaten boycott too

Photo: An orangutan is seen with an tranquilizer dart in his side - to make him sleep before rangers relocate him to another place on Borneo island, away from this palm oil plantation.. Photo taken on November 19, 2008. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)via
by Jeremy Hance

Candy and food giant Nestle is finding itself between a rock and a hard place. The online campaign against Nestle continues: today protesters once again posted thousands of negative messages on the company's Facebook page, most demanding that Nestle cut out palm oil linked to deforestation from its products. At the same time, a new problem has cropped up for Nestle: Indonesian oil palm planters are threatening to boycott Nestle products.

Proving that the issues surrounding oil palm and deforestation are nothing if not complex: Facebook protestors say they will boycott Nestle if it doesn't cut out all links to Sinar Mas, a company that Greenpeace has linked to deforestation, whereas the Indonesia Palm Oil Growers Association are preparing a boycott if Nestle stops buying from Sinar Mas, according to the Jakarta Globe.

"About 10 million oil palm farmers in 20 Indonesian provinces have stated their readiness to boycott Nestle products. Apkasindo [Indonesian Palm Oil Growers Association] is now preparing to draw up a list of Nestle products on the market," Asmar Arsjad, Apkasindo secretary general, said over the weekend, adding that if Nestle stops buying from Sinar Mas it would hurt palm oil producers.

Adding fuel to fire, Antara News reports that Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil producers are threatening to stop exports of crude palm oil to the US and the EU if negative campaigns over their environmental practices continue. Palm oil, the world's most productive oil seed, has come to be used in everything from food products to cosmetics.

Nestle has already promised it will stop purchasing from Sinar Mas due to a report from Greenpeace showing that the Indonesian company was involved in destruction of rainforests and peatlands for oil palm plantations. However, Nestle still buys indirectly from Sinar Mas, since one of its suppliers, Cargill, buys from the Indonesian company.

Greenpeace and thousands of online protestors are demanding that Nestle sever all ties with Sinar Mas, direct or indirect. The company has responded that it will purchase only sustainable palm oil by 2015—a comment that angered most.

The online protest against the multi billion-dollar corporation, which began last Wednesday, took on a life of its own after the company had a Greenpeace video criticizing the company removed from YouTube, citing copyright violations. This action, seen by many as censorship, caused the video to go viral: it has been watched hundreds of thousands of times since. Statements made by Nestle on their Facebook fan page, which many viewed as rude, only worsened the situation for the company.

At the crux of the conflict is the importance of the world's rainforests for mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity. Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world due largely to deforestation. Between 1990 and 2005, Indonesia lost more than 28 million hectares of forest, including 21.7 hectares of virgin forest. The country's forest cover has declined from 82 percent in the 1960s to less than fifty percent today.

One of the world's most biodiverse countries, many of Indonesia's species are gravely threatened by deforestation, including both the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans; Asian elephants; Sumatran tigers; Javan and Sumatran rhinos; several species of tarsiers; the small wild cattle, anoa; and the proboscis monkey to name a few.

In all, Indonesia is home to over 30,000 recorded species of plants and over 3,000 mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Yet, the deputy assistant of biodiversity conservation at the State Environment Ministry, Utami Andayani, recently told the Jakarta Post that likely only half of Indonesia's species are known to science.

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