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Companies accused of deliberately starting fires

Dec 21

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21/12/2015 10:08  RssIcon

Asia Pulp & Paper's supplier accused of burning peat lands

Since July 2015 over 20,000 square kilometres of land has been burned in Indonesia. 

Al Jazeera has released a video investigating who is to blame for a series of deadly fires which have swept across the country since July this year.




In the last six months over 20,000 square kilometres of land has been burned in Indonesia, releasing more greenhouse gases each day than in the United States. Many are blaming El Nino - a weather phenomenon which has prolonged the dry season. However, the report notes that many of the fires have occurred on private land (concessions) given to multi-national corporations for the planting of pulpwood and palm oil. 

Many of the companies deny using fire to clear land even though it is the quickest and cheapest method.

Currently there are over 400 pulpwood and palm oil companies under investigation by the Indonesian government over the fires. 

The companies blame smallholder farmers who are legally allowed to burn small areas, which they then use to grow crops.


Asia Pulp & Paper

One of the biggest investigations in Indonesia is against Sinar Mas – one of the country's largest conglomerates. It owns Asia Pulp & Paper which is supplied by many of the concessions run by several smaller companies. 

Aida Greenbury, a spokeswoman from APP, claimed in an interview “that the company had no control over the fires.” 

Yet satellite data showed that suppliers to APP had more hotspots on peat land than any other company in South Sumatra.

The reporter said “the devastation hardly looked like it was caused by an out of control fire, you can see the concession areas below with rows of planted trees, notice how many of the burned patches appear to follow straight lines.” 

A local fire investigator and professor also claimed that the land had been set on fire systematically and by design.



Since July 2015 the fires have cost the Indonesian government an estimated $14bn US Dollars.

The reporter went to Palmebang court to witness the hearing of a company accused of deliberately starting a fire in South Sumatra in 2014. The government was seeking US$500million in damages. The company is Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) - a major supplier to APP. In the video the company lawyers state that the haze is natural and the case against them is a joke. They claim there is no connection between the fires and BMH.

The court case relates to 2014 when members of the 101 East production company went to a BMH concession in Sumatra and found that canals were still dug alongside plots of burnt land. Some of the peat was still on fire at least 20 kilometres away from the security gate, proving that the fire could not have come from the outside. 

Earlier in 2014 the police named BMH as one of the companies responsible for the fires and took several of the company's top executives into custody.


Ulterior motives 

APP said that it had taken significant efforts to prevent and suppress fires: “if we found that our suppliers burned intentionally to clear land we will disengage from them. That is [a] very clear position.”

But as the report showed, this wasn't the case in 2013. In a publicly released document APP admitted that BMH breached its regulations by clearing protected land.

It was suggested that the reason for APP's continued loyalty to BMH was due to it constructing another pulp mill, destined to be Asia's largest, which environmentalists have said will lead to a greater demand for trees. BMH is expected to be the new supplier to the paper mill. 

As one campaigner said: “the numbers [for the mill] dont add up and [APP] will have to scale up the amount of wood it sources from its suppliers, putting its zero deforestation and zero burning policy into jeopardy”





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