Secret Tapes Reveal Corruption, Brutality of Palm Oil Execs

Environmental and Human Rights Organization, Global Witness, sent undercover investigators to look into human rights and environmental abuses by palm oil industries.

A palm oil mill in Sumatra, Indonesia
A palm oil mill in Sumatra, Indonesia

The Washington Post revealed an investigation by environmental and human rights organization, Global Witness, which sent investigators in to look into practices of corruption, labor abuses, and environmental destruction by the palm oil industry in Papua New Guinea.

"A pattern of coercion and violence right across PNG has denied local people the traditional use of forests integral to their culture and livelihoods,” the authors of the report wrote. “Huge areas of tropical forests have been deforested, and much more remains at risk unless action is taken.”

The investigators taped an executive from one of the companies called Tobar Investment Ltd., confirming accounts of police officers, who were paid off by the companies, raiding a village and beating its citizens in response to the destruction of palm trees on the plantation. 

The executive told the investigators, in a secretly recorded online meeting, that the company contacted the police after the vandalism of the palm trees to send a message to local residents. He said, according to The Washington Post, that "a close friend of his ran the 'special operation police' and that he could call the officer 'whenever we want assistance.'" 

"They did some bashing up. They know we are owners now," he said. 

International and local responses

Many of the global corporations with No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation policies (NDPE) were found to be on the supply list of these abusive companies, such as Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg's, and Nestlé. 

All three companies replied and said that they have taken measures, in light of the report, to cut off the East New Britain Resources Group (ENBR) who operates a joint venture with Tobar Investment Ltd., from their supply chains.

Papua New Guinea, on its part, may have difficulty limiting the influence of these companies, as the investigation revealed that managers from an ENBR subsidiary bragged about the corruption of government officials.