Deep in the forests of Borneo, a palm oil corporation is under investigation for illegal deforestation. It’s a critical test for the government of Indonesia, which has made major commitments to protect its endangered rainforests.

The palm oil company, PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa (“PTSCP”), was given preliminary approval for a large palm plantation six years ago. That should have been the beginning of a long environmental licensing progress. But PTSCP didn’t follow those steps, and instead started clearing tens of thousands of acres of forest.

International companies like Cargill and Bunge, which source palm oil and have made commitments to purchase sustainability grown oil, began to investigate. So did conservation groups, and eventually, the Indonesian government.

The government has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by saving rainforests. The country has the world’s third-largest area of tropical rainforest. If successful in cutting emissions, Indonesia will receive $1 billion from Norway. But the government is also facing pressure as the world’s leading producer of palm oil, and plans to double output in the face of rising global demand.

Orangutans are one of the species threatened by deforestation in Indonesia.

The current case against PTSCP is investigating eight suspected environmental violations, and could result in jail time and fines for the company. If PTSCP is sanctioned, it will also be an important signal to other palm oil producers that Indonesia is taking environmental protection seriously.


Main image: Flickr user Wakx. Secondary image: Flickr user kate nev.