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12 Dec 2016

The Straits Times (Singapore)

Olam defends against attack on its palm oil practices in Gabon

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Olam International...has hit back against a report by a US-based environmental lobbying group accusing it of endangering the forest habitats of African wildlife with widespread deforestation in its palm oil concessions in Gabon...Olam said the report...has important factual errors, and several key misinterpretations of Olam's policies and implementation...Olam said the Mighty Report levels two main claims against the company: - That Olam is deforesting in Gabon and will not sign a no-deforestation commitment that adheres to the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) methodology.- That Olam's third party sourcing of palm oil comes from companies that are environmentally destructive and causing fire and haze. On the deforestation claim, Mr Sunny Verghese, Olam's co-founder and group CEO said: "Gabon has a right and an essential need to develop its agriculture sector to diversify its economy, improve food security to feed its people and create new livelihood opportunities, while also protecting its natural forests. "Olam's palm plantations in Gabon are being developed in an environmentally and socially responsible way to contribute to each of these objectives. Our approach balances palm plantation establishment with natural forest protection. In fact we are conserving and protecting areas of verified high conservation value forest within our concessions greater in size than our plantations." Olam added that Gabon has about 33 per cent of its people living at or below the poverty line, and its reliance on oil-and-gas revenues is not viable in the long-term. "The government therefore has a justifiable imperative to grow the agricultural economy beyond just subsistence farming. Its medium-term goal is to establish 300,000 hectares of agriculture, which will amount to about 1 per cent of Gabon's total national land area," said Olam...On the second claim that Olam has failed to disclose the identity of third-party suppliers of palm oil, Mr Verghese said the company is "still a small player, accounting for only 0.4 per cent of global palm volumes in 2016". He added: "We already expect full compliance to our Sustainable Palm Oil Policy and Supplier Code, and have absolutely zero tolerance for the burning of forests. All of our current suppliers have either signed this code or have their own codes consistent with ours. We are also now releasing our full supplier list."

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