PALM oil producers from Malaysia have formed a coalition with their counterparts in Indonesia to counter intensified campaigns that blame the industry for rapid deforestation.
The Indonesia-Malaysia Palm Oil Group brings together six organisations from the two countries, which account for 85 percent of global production.
They said they had come together after being attacked by non-government organisations (NGOs) for causing deforestation and threatening the survival of endangered species.
“The group will enable us to get together to defend some allegations that were made by the NGOs,” Mamat Salleh, chief executive of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), a member of the new group, said on Wednesday.
“(The NGOs) have even influenced some of the big companies to boycott (the use of palm oil). It’s getting serious, we are not as bad as portrayed by those people,” he said.
Palm oil, which is used extensively across the globe for biofuel, processed food and toiletries, is a key export for the two nations, earning them more than US$25 billion in total last year.
As well as the MPOA, the coalition includes the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, the Association of Plantation Investors of Malaysia in Indonesia and the Indonesia Oil Palm Smallholders Association.
It also includes the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association and Federal Land Development Authority.
The announcement comes after Indonesian producer Sinar Mas was dropped by high-profile clients following allegations it was not following environmentally sound practices.
In a statement, the coalition – which was formed at an industry meeting in Malaysia on Monday – said they agreed “to engage with the existing Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) for a more practical scheme.”
The RSPO was formed in 2004 to establish stringent social and environmental criteria including a ban on clearing forests in order to plant the crop.
The MPOA’s Mamat did not elaborate on the “practical scheme” or whether the group will shun the RSPO, but said “we will decide what we want to do.”
Sinar Mas has been hit hard by campaigners after Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever and Switzerland’s Nestle this year dropped it as a supplier in response to protests by Greenpeace.
And in March US food company Cargill asked Sinar Mas to respond to Greenpeace’s allegations and sought an investigation by the RSPO.
The environmental group accused the producer of wiping out rainforests and destroying endangered orangutan habitats. Sinar Mas has rejected the claims.