Monday, August 23, 2010

Palm oil giant's claim disputed by their own auditors

A confrontationist approach taken by palm oil giant PT SMART (the Indonesian palm oil arm of Sinar Mas), part of the Singapore Exchange listed Golden Agri Resources, to discredit Greenpeace report seems to have backfired, literally.

In a report, Greenpeace had accused PT SMART of destroying forests to raise oil palm plantations. The report prompted several of PT SMART customers including Unilever, Kraft and Nestle to terminate their sourcing agreements with the company.

PT SMART which has all along denied Greenpeace allegations then said it would commission an independent audit of its palm oil plantations to prove it has done no wrong.

Two weeks ago, PT SMART executives, armed with the "independent audit report" and advised by a UK-based PR firm Bell Pottinger, arrived in the UK to hold a press conference to claim that Greenpeace allegations were found to be untrue.

A fine spin work ensured worldwide headlines implying that an independent audit had cleared PT SMART of all wrongdoing and making Greenpeace look like a nuisance maker.

Greenpeace accused the company of misreporting the audit findings and selectively ignoring parts of the report. Ethical Corporation published comments from Greenpeace on the matter and invited PT SMART to respond. But nothing heard from the company yet.

Within three days of the press conference, BSI-one of the two audit firms involved in the audit- came out saying that PT SMART had misreported the audit findings. Well, this is what we call "a gun backfiring."

Greenpeace has ceased the opportunity and has written to the Singapore Stock Exchange seeking action against Golden Agri Resources for making factually incorrect claims.

PT SMART still insists it has not misreported the findings. Is this the advice they are getting from Bell Pottinger? And whoever are their sustainability advisers. They appear to in the wrong hands.

In the meantime, Golden Agri plans to expand into Liberia. The company is investing in private equity fund Verdant that is the sole shareholder of a Liberia-based firm in the process of being granted a government concession to develop 220,000 hectares for 20 years.

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