Johnny Blades – A controversial land sale in New Zealand has met with disapproval from the West Papua solidarity movement.
The government has decided to allow Japanese firm Pan Pac to purchase 22,000ha of land without any scrutiny from the Overseas Investment Office, or OIO.
The West Papua Action Auckland group has expressed its objections in a letter to the Minister of Conservation and Land Information, Eugenie Sage.
The group has zeroed in on the firm's links to Korindo, a forestry and palm oil conglomerate with a controversial record in Indonesian-ruled West Papua.
Korindo has been criticised by environmental groups for forest clearance and displacement of indigenous West Papuan communities.
Last month, when the Pan Pac purchase came to light, Ms Sage was compelled to defend the sale proceeding without scrutiny from the OIO.
She said Pan Pac was well established in New Zealand and could add value to forestry exports from the country.
"The approval means hundreds of jobs will be retained by enabling Pan Pac to secure its wood supply for its high value wood exports," Ms Sage said.
Responding to West Papua Action Auckland's concern, the minister said she was aware of the concerns regarding the destruction of forests in West Papua.
"Destruction of indigenous forest anywhere in the world is unacceptable when we are faced with a global biodiversity crisis," she told RNZ Pacific.
"In my capacity as a Green MP, I'd note the Green Party's long history of standing up for West Papua and raising concerns about the destructive nature of the palm oil industry."
However, Maire Leadbeater and Catherine Delahunty of West Papua Action Auckland wrote that destruction of the world's third largest rainforest in New Guinea was contributing to what they called 'slow genocide' of West Papuans.
"In West Papua forest clearance is inevitably followed by the introduction of palm oil plantations. For the local people this means a loss of their essential source of food and shelter."
Although the minister said "high-quality overseas investment in forestry" would support the government's One Billion Trees programme, according to West Papua Action Auckland "plantation forestry is controversial and its carbon benefits are limited".
Korindo under the spotlight
Meanwhile, the Forest Stewardship Council, a global certification body for responsible forest management, this week released findings from a two-year investigation into Korindo Group prompted by a complaint filed by the NGO Mighty Earth.
The complaint relates to environmental destruction and alleged human rights abuses committed by Korindo in Papua and Maluku in Indonesia.
Despite significant redactions, the findings show Korindo destroyed over 30,000 hectares of rainforest in the past five years "while systematically manipulating and underpaying indigenous landowners".
It also said the Korean/Indonesian conglomerate repeatedly failed to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of local indigenous communities to development on their lands.
Pastor Anselmus Amo from SKP-KAMe Meruake, a Papuan human rights group in Papua province, said Korindo was not taking its corporate social responsibility seriously.
"Korindo has destroyed community lands and livelihoods without peoples' consent, robbed communities of their natural resources, subjected people to violence and intimidation, and polluted their rivers – all while hiring mainly workers from outside Papua," he said.
"FSC should consult directly with affected communities to better understand Korindo's egregious actions and the communities' views on what fair compensation and remediation measures would be. We stand ready to help resolve this long-standing conflict."
As a result of the findings, the FSC's Complaints Panel recommended that Korindo be disassociated from the council due to its violations of Traditional and Human Rights.
Despite this recommendation, the FSC Board decided to reach a form of compromise with Korindo on improvement and remediation measures.
It has said that Korindo's continued association with the FSC was dependent on the company complying with requirements towards social and environmental reparations and remedy.
Included in these requirements is a moratorium on land clearing across all Korindo's operations and commodities in Indonesia.