Allegations against IOI 'just not true'

KUALA LUMPUR: Environmental activists' allegations of IOI Corp Bhd committing some sort of wrongdoing at its estates in Ketapang, West Kalimantan, are just not true. This is despite these non-governmental organisations (NGOs) broadcasting and publishing their claims, over and over again.

IOI Corp Bhd, in its recent filing to the stock exchange and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), re-iterated that in October 2010, an RSPO-certified auditor SGS investigated the allegations and concluded the deforestation complaints were baseless.

As for native customary rights land dispute with the local community neighbouring the IOI Pelita estate in Sarawak, IOI Corp had regularly invited the local community to find an amicable solution, in the presence of an independent observer.

IOI Corp even took pains to explain to the claimants, who had been instigated by activists, which they violated laws when they erected road blocks at the estate entrance, used homemade firearms to threaten its workers and steal oil palm fruits.

In an interview with Business Times, Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) chairman Datuk Shahrir Samad opined that the defamatory allegations against IOI Corp and presumption of guilt by environmental activist Friends of the Earth only serves to attract contempt of court proceedings.

"These half truths and lies published by the NGOs on the Internet tantamounts to deliberate disregard for sub-judice laws of our country. It goes on to show that these NGOs like Greenpeace, Bruno Manser Fund and Rainforest Action Network are lacking in credibility. They have no respect for the sovereignty of our country's laws," said Shahrir, who is also Member of Parliament for Johor Baru.

The RSPO, set up in 2004, was initially hailed as a forum where stakeholders of diverse interests are considered as equal partners.

Somehow, over the years, the roundtable concept of equal duties and rights became lop-sided. The RSPO has tipped in favour of NGOs as their expertise in communicating to the public is being carried out at the expense of palm oil producers.

While Malaysian and Indonesian planters dutifully produce RSPO-certified palm oil, consuming companies, mainly from the Europe and the US, did not fulfill their promise to pay US$50 per tonne (RM150.50) premium above market price and buy up all the oil ordered.

Meanwhile, Shahrir said there remains no check and balance mechanism to assess the credibility of these self-interested activists within and outside the RSPO.

In a separate interview, Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) chief executive officer Datuk Mamat Salleh concurred with Shahrir. 

He, too, expressed his disappointment over these green NGOs trespass and protests at IOI-Loders Croklaan office in the US and that of Neste Oil headquarters in Finland. 

"We're very disappointed with Friends of the Earth's spreading lies via the social media, urging Unilever not to buy palm oil from IOI Corp and the public to stop consuming palm oil," he said.

Last month, the RSPO executive committee immediately suspended IOI Corp's certifications upon complaints from other green activists, without first verifying with Moody's International, an authorised RSPO certified auditor, on the fact finding process.

Such a move gave the impression that IOI Corp is already guilty of some wrongdoing despite the case still being tried at the High Court in Sarawak. "This is a prime example of green activists behaving as whistleblowers, judge, jury and executioner, all roled into one. Where's the check and balance? Why should we tolerate such conflict of interests?" Mamat questioned.

Renowned economist Milton Friedman once said the social responsibility of business is simply to maximise the rate of return to shareholders that are consistent with the law. Anything that sidetracks corporate management from that responsibility spells big trouble.

Mamat noted that hundreds of million of corporate money have been and continue to be diverted away from investors and redistributed elsewhere - not by duly constituted governments - but as a result of extortion via greenmailing wielded by wealthy green activist groups who are accountable to no one, but their "well-meaning donors".

These wealthy green activist groups, Mamat added, have taken to execute coup d'etats to dictate business policies and behavior based on their narrow definition of sustainability, thereby compromising what is equitable and fair to shareholders of oil palm companies in Malaysia and Indonesia.

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