Global Witness focused this investigation
on the East New Britain Resources Group of companies (ENB), the Rimbunan Hijau Group
of companies (RH), and Bewani Oil Palm Plantations Ltd (Bewani) in Papua New
Guinea (PNG). ENB and RH are operating oil palm plantations in East New Britain
Province (ENBP), and Bewani is operating an oil palm plantation in Sandaun
(West Sepik) Province. While there are other palm oil companies operating in PNG,
these three have together deforested tens of thousands of hectares since 2010,
and were exporting palm oil in 2019, when we began this research.
Between 2019-2021, Global Witness
researchers met with and interviewed local community members and civil society organizations
in both provinces. We interviewed two former oil palm plantation workers in
ENBP, and subsequently conducted an extensive investigation into worker health
and safety on the Rimbunan Hijau plantations in Pomio District, ENBP, described
below. In PNG, and remotely, undercover Global Witness researchers carried out multiple
covert interviews with ENB employees and with a director of Tobar Investment
Ltd. This report also draws on an interview with community members from Gazelle
district, ENBP, that Global Witness researchers conducted in 2017.
Global Witness used ship tracking data
accessed via the commercial service MarineTraffic to reconstruct the voyage of the Chem
Peace from PNG to India. We accessed corporate records using publicly
accessible databases of the PNG Investment Promotion Authority, Companies
Commission of Malaysia, and Singapore’s Accounting and
Corporate Regulatory Authority. Company shareholding was assessed
via Refinitiv Eikon. Global brands’ exposure to the ENB and RH mills was
checked using publicly available mill lists published by the companies
Global Witness used shapefiles for the
Rimbunan Hijau and Bewani concessions previously published in our 2017 report Stained Trade. We derived a shapefile for the ENB
‘Ili-Wawas’ project drawing from the map included in that project’s 2005 Environmental Impact Statement.
We used the global forest change 2000-2019 dataset (Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA) to
calculate forest loss within each concession boundary by year, using ArcGIS. To
ensure the forest lost area was originally natural forest, we used images from
sources including Google Earth, Sentinel 2 and Landsat to check the forest
type of the lost area before deforestation. The vast majority of forest loss
(ca. ~99%) appeared to be natural forest.
Worker health and safety incidents
Acting on tips received from two former employees
and a community member, Global Witness launched an investigation into worker
health and safety on the RH oil palm plantations in Pomio District, ENBP. We
began by searching the publicly accessible PNG Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC)
database. Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, companies are
required to report workplace accidents and deaths to the OWC. Each such report
is given a unique reference number in a searchable database. GW found records
of seven deaths and seven accidents that we were able to determine had happened
on RH’s plantations in Pomio.
We then worked with a local community member
in Pomio District to interview accident survivors and/or their next of kin, and
to identify additional incidents. (We are omitting the name of our local
colleague for their safety.) This process ran between Oct 2020-Feb 2021 and
captured interviews with fourteen survivors or their next of kin. It produced
additional documentation for several cases we had identified from the OWC
database, and revealed five additional deaths and five additional serious
injuries that Global Witness could substantiate based on documentation.
The majority of the injured and deceased
workers Global Witness documented were men. This may reflect the fact that
women more often work in an informal capacity on palm oil plantations, e.g. as
“loose fruit” collectors.
Global Witness has seen and collected copies
of documentation related to these cases including workers’ medical reports;
autopsy reports; police reports; worker, witness, and supervisor statements;
insurance forms; proof of employment, including payslips; and accident and
autopsy photos. We arranged for one worker and the next of kin of a deceased
worker to be interviewed on video. All interviews were captured in writing with
our interviewer translating from spoken Tok Pisin to English where necessary.
When this report went to publication, the OWC database was undergoing
renovations and was offline.
Papua New Guinean
health and safety consultancy Niugini Environment Management Services (NgEMS)
reviewed the findings for Global Witness. Principal Tony Aromo has over a
decade’s experience in the palm oil sector in PNG and served as a technical
expert on the working group developing nationally appropriate standards for
Comparison of fatal accidents, Rimbunan
Hijau/New Britain Palm Oil Limited
Global Witness compared the fatal accidents
we documented at Rimbunan Hijau’s operations with those at another oil palm
company operating in PNG.
Four Rimbunan Hijau (RH) companies are
working in the group’s “Sigite Mukus” project in Pomio, ENBP:
- Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Limited
- Sinar Tiasa (PNG) Limited
- Gilford Limited
- Niugini Lumber Merchants
Because it is unknown how many personnel from
each company are entirely devoted to the Sigite Mukus project, and in order to
produce a conservative comparison with another company’s operations, for the
purpose of the analysis of fatal accidents undertaken in this report all employees
listed as working in annual company reports for all four of these companies
were included in the table below.
In 2010, work officially began on the Sigite
Table 1. Full-time staff of RH companies
operating in Sigite Mukus, according to annual reports filed with the PNG Investment
Company 2010 2015 2020
Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Limited 98 98 183
Sinar Tiasa (PNG) Limited 2 2 2,218
Gilford Limited 0 20 142
Niugini Lumber Merchants Limited 467 470 268
Totals 567 590 2,811
According to annual company reports filed
with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority, the total number of employees at
these four companies combined varied between 567-2,811 in the years Global
Witness assessed (2010, 2015, and 2020).
In order to compare the fatalities Global
Witness documented at the Sigite Mukus operation with another PNG operation of
roughly similar size, we looked at publicly available reports from New Britain
Palm Oil Ltd. (NBPOL). NBPOL, owned by Sime Darby, operates six plantations in
PNG. The company is RSPO certified and publishes its policies regarding human
rights and worker health and safety.
Of NBPOL’s PNG operations, the Higaturu and
Milne Bay plantations are closest in size to the largest number of employees
calculated for Sigite Mukus (employing 2,325 and 3,132 people respectively).
Compared to both of these plantations,
there were significantly more fatalities at the Rimbunan Hijau operation (see
Table 2). Over the 2010-2020 time span assessed, one worker died at the
Higaturu plantation and three workers died at the Milne Bay plantation. In
comparison, 12 people—11 workers and one school-aged dependent of a worker—died
at the RH operation over the same time period, according to Global Witness’s
analysis of Office of Workers’ Compensation records and interviews with
survivors conducted in 2020 and 2021.
Table 2. Fatalities at three PNG oil
palm plantation operations, 2010-2020.
Company Employees (est. in 2020) Fatalities 2010-2020
Rimbunan Hijau – Sigite Mukus 2,811 12
NBPOL - Higaturu 2,325 1
NBPOL – Milne Bay 3,132 3
It is unknown how many hectares (ha) of oil
palm have been planted within the Sigite Mukus project. RH has claimed that
31,000 ha are slated for oil palm. However, Global Witness estimates that
~24,600 ha of forest has been cleared within the project area. The total amount
of palm planted therefore is unlikely to exceed 24,600 ha, and may be
The NBPOL Higaturu and Milne Bay
plantations combined had a total area of 20,459 hectares devoted to oil palm in
2015. Combining the fatality rate for these two operations likewise, the NBPOL
operations are still far less lethal on a per-hectare, as well as a per capita,