Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Profit comes with accountability

The MalaysianInsider 9th November 2009

Breaking Views

Profit comes with accountability — Sean Whyte

NOV 9 — With the world's largest single palm oil event happening this week in Petaling Jaya it is time to set the record straight and dispel myths perpetuated by industry spokesmen.

Time and again in an endeavour to shift blame and focus from themselves, the palm oil industry attempts to depict NGOs as people who want to put them out of business. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What's happening after years of freedom to log millions of hectares of rainforest and in the process of doing so wiping out tens of millions of wildlife forms, the palm oil industry is at last being held accountable for the undeniable death and destruction they have wreaked, relatively unchecked, until now. And after all this time and freedom to do what they want, some palm oil industry executives (thankfully a slowly declining number) cannot stomach being questioned or, worse still, seeing their industry exposed for what it is; arguably the most environmentally destructive industry in the world.

As bad as the industry is, NGOs don't want to see it closed down and neither are they seeking a boycott of palm oil. No. All NGOs are asking (and I generalise here) is for the industry to grow and prosper without causing such massive and irreversible damage to the environment. Is this too much to ask? Is it unreasonable to expect the palm oil industry to permit indigenous tribes to retain and live on their ancestral lands without threats and intimidation? How would you like it if the Penan people came into your neighbourhood with their spears and poison arrows and before proceeding to destroy your homes, gardens and source of income, they told you to move out and never come back. Think about it. This is what happens every day in Sarawak.

Is it unreasonable to assume such relentless and environmentally destructive damage thus far caused by the palm oil industry, if left unchallenged by NGOs and the public at large, some 20 years from now there could be little or no forest cover left in Malaysia and Indonesia, no orangutans, no tigers, no elephants, no birds singing in trees, no insects to pollinate fruit and vegetable plants, no indigenous tribes left to pass on their culture and knowledge, increasing frequency of landslides, massive changes in climate, more tropical storms, rising sea levels swallowing islands and coastal communities. All the evidence points this way. It's precisely for these reasons NGOs are asking the industry to change its operating procedures. We don't oppose profit or development. We oppose financial greed, the abuse of human rights, and the rampant destruction of the environment.Values, I suggest, most reasonable people have no argument with.

I leave you with the recent, wise words of Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun: “The (palm oil) industry must self-regulate itself. Eventually, by the full force of global pressure on the need for sustainable harvesting, it will have to be done. "The industry can make money and be socially responsible at the same time. "Profit comes from the soil and while the state government is dependent on (revenue) from palm oil, we need planters to be responsible. And as responsible corporate citizens, they should only take what is necessary. But we have done practically everything to nature and because of that we have to be ashamed of ourselves. “We have destroyed beautiful forests and hills and polluted the rivers to satisfy our greed."

Food for thought. I hope.

Sean Whyte is the chief executive of Nature Alert (www.naturealert.org).