Olam International is suspending forest clearing in Gabon for at least a year, as it has reached a truce with US environmental group Mighty Earth which had earlier criticised the agri-commodity group for its supposed deforestation practices in the African country.
In return, Mighty Earth has agreed to suspend its campaign targeting Olam's oil palm and rubber operations for the same period.
Both parties had met in Washington following Mighty Earth's scathing report on Olam in December last year, in a discussion moderated by the World Resources Institute (WRI).
They agreed to move forward on two principles.
The first is to practise responsible agricultural development while addressing poverty reduction and job creation in Gabon and similar countries with high forest cover.
The second is the need for palm oil traders to collectively strengthen incentives for suppliers in South-east Asia, so that they avoid deforestation and exploitation of workers.
During the one-year period, both will take part in a multi-stakeholder process, involving the Gabon government and civil society organisations, to develop more specific criteria for responsible development in highly forested landscapes.
Olam CEO Sunny Verghese said the firm remains committed to best practices in forest conservation, sustainable agricultural development, poverty reduction and job creation.
The firm has since 2011 entered into two joint ventures with the government to plant palm oil and rubber.
"We hope these actions can help sovereign countries like Gabon set their own pathways to sustainable development," he added.
Mighty Earth chairman Henry Waxman welcomed the opportunity for the group to help Gabon develop in a responsible way and provide a model for conservation in high forest cover countries.
Besides putting a pause to land clearing in Gabon, Olam will also beef up sustainability efforts in its palm oil supply chain.
Mighty Earth had earlier accused Olam of buying unsustainably produced palm oil from third-party suppliers.
Olam said it will supplement current sustainability policies with explicit references to protect peatland and ensure no exploitation of workers or local communities.
Among other measures, it will also revise a procedure for complaints, or grievances, so as to include its third-party palm oil suppliers and protect the anonymity of those providing input.
Commenting on the agreement between both parties, WRI president and CEO Andrew Steer said it is a good example of how organisations can agree to find a sustainable and prosperous path forward.
"Balancing forest protection and new agricultural projects can be very challenging, and it is vital for countries, companies and civil society to work together and find common ground."
This article was first published on February 23, 2017.
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