Greenpeace Activists and A Rock Band Occupy Palm Oil Refinery in Indonesia to Highlight Environmental Concerns
Greenpeace activists 'occupy' an palm oil refinery in Indonesia (Photo: Greenpeace)

Greenpeace activists scaled an Indonesian palm oil refinery to protest against the use of palm oil in everyday products from soap to crackers. The activists were accompanied by members of a popular rock band who occupied the refinery towers belonging to Wilmar International.

The rock band played some of their pro-environment songs from the top of the structure. The green activist group said 30 activists - including several foreigners - and Indonesian metal group Boomerang were "occupying" the site in Sulawesi island to draw attention to widespread environmental destruction caused by planting the widely used edible oil.

The activists also painted "Dirty" in large letters and dropped a banner that read "Drop Dirty Palm Oil Now" on storage tanks owned by Singapore-listed Wilmar International, the world's biggest palm oil trader. Wilmar International supplies palm oil to major brands including Colgate, Nestle and Unilever, it said.

The use of palm oil is varied but in recent years it is being used even more widely in the snack food industry, since it is transfat-free and therefore seen as healthier than the shortening agent it replaces.

Greenpeace has accused Singapore-listed Wilmar of still being linked to deforestation in Indonesia - the world's biggest palm oil exporter - despite committing five years ago to stop logging the Southeast Asian archipelago's vast tracts of jungle. "This refinery is loaded with Wilmar's dirty palm oil and if we weren't here it would be on its way to factories and supermarkets all over the world," Greenpeace said.

One group of activists also climbed the anchor chain of a tanker ship transporting palm oil and are preventing it from moving, according to the group.

Wilmar did not immediately comment on the protest.

The warm, humid climate of the tropical countries offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Huge tracts of rainforest covered land is cleared in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa to make room for more palm plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.

Today palm oil production is the largest cause of deforestation in Indonesia and other equatorial countries with dwindling expanses of tropical rainforest. Indonesia’s endangered orangutan population, which depends upon the rainforest, has dwindled by as much as 50 percent in recent years.

Last week, Indonesia's president signed a three-year moratorium on all new palm oil plantation development in the country.