Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) has responded to complaints made to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) that it paid bribes to cover up the improper use of protected forest in Indonesia, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The complaint had been filed by UK-based human rights organisation Forest Peoples Programme (FFP) and US-based Elks Hill Research, the WSJ reported on 20 March. The groups had used public recor avril-closes-french-biodiesel-plants-due-to-drop-in-demandds and satellite imagery to examine deforestation on GAR plantations and encroachment on protected areas.

The land use violations were tied to a case last year in which Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission had brought bribery charges against three former GAR employees who had been paid to overlook the lack of land use permits at one of the company’s plantations. The employees had been sentenced to one year and eight months in prison.

Following the complaint to the RSPO, GAR submitted a 153-page response to the organisation on 7 April, along with supporting documentary evidence.

In response to the allegation that GAR had failed to secure the necessary permits for eight concessions in Central Kalimantan, the company said the complex issue of obtaining permits in Indonesia affected all companies and was not peculiar to GAR. The company said it had submitted evidence of the legal changes that had occurred over the years regarding the allocation and designation of land for palm oil plantations. Through all the legislative changes, GAR said it had – along with its subsidiaries – complied with the regulations at the time and had therefore been operating legally throughout.

GAR said that the allegation that the company and its subsidiaries had failed to comply with RSPO new planting procedures was factually incorrect and without basis. GAR had submitted a list of documents verified by the RSPO certification body and submitted to the RSPO in 2014. In addition, GAR had highlighted that the only new planting since 2014 had been to fulfil plasma development for the community. In this, GAR said it had also filed all the necessary documentation.

In response to the allegation of unethical behaviour by GAR, the company said the claims by the FPP were incorrect.

Ian Suwarganda, head of policy and advocacy at GAR, said: “Since October 2018 when the corruption case was instigated, GAR and its subsidiary PT BAP have been transparent about the case, the fact that the individuals in question acted of their own accord and in breach of the company’s Code of Conduct.

“This was proven in the decision of the Jakarta Corruption Court which also ruled that the incident reflected the actions of a few individuals in breach of government regulations as well as GAR’s own code of conduct. Neither GAR not PT BAP were parties to the case. Therefore, claims that either company acted unethically are without basis.”

The RSPO said it aimed to close complaint cases in about a year.

GAR is one of Indonesia’s largest palm oil producers and supplies major food companies such as Kellogg’s, Nestlé and Unilever.