On 8 December 2020, Mongabay published an article by Hans Nicholas Jong titled Palm oil giant Wilmar unfazed as watchdogs cry foul over Papua deforestation. On 9 December 2020, Wilmar published their “Response to Mongabay Article on PT Medco Papua Hijau Selaras”.

Clarifications to Wilmar’s ‘Response to Mongabay Article on PT Medco Papua Hijau Selaras’

Wilmar claims that ‘PT MPHS has an existing HCV and HCS assessment, which was conducted by assessors approved by the HCV Resource Network Assessor Licensing Scheme (ALS) and completed in 2019.’

To date, the HCV Network (HCVN) ALS has not received or evaluated any reports for assessments conducted on land intended for development by PT Medco Papua Hijau Selaras (PT MPHS). A list of all assessment reports submitted for evaluation to the HCVN ALS is publicly available in the ‘Find a Report’ section on our website.  

Wilmar does not provide the name(s) of the assessor(s) involved in the HCV or HCV-HCSA assessment referenced in its response, therefore the HCVN ALS cannot verify whether the assessor was licensed by the HCVN ALS at the time of the assessment. The HCVN ALS, only evaluates assessment reports submitted by Licensed Assessors. As per the ALS Specification, Licensed Assessors are required to submit all their assessment reports for evaluation. A list of all Licensed Assessors is available on the ‘Find Assessors’ section on our website. For HCS stand-alone assessment reports, the High Carbon Stock Approach has a separate quality assurance system (see here).

This statement: ‘Assertions were also made in the article that the HCV and HCS methodologies, and HCVRN’s ALS mechanism for quality control, need to be strengthened’ is incorrect. No such assertions are made in the Mongabay article. The article, however, does state that the "HCV/HCS study" for PT MPHS has not been independently peer-reviewed and quotes stakeholder statements such as “There are too many cases where traders accept the findings of HCS report at face value, without requiring them to go through a peer review report." and "no forest clearing should have been allowed before a peer review to check whether the HCV/HSC maps were correct." These statements confirm the importance of independent quality assurance of HCV and HCV-HCSA assessment reports, as provided by the HCVN ALS.

Clarifications to Mongabay’s ‘Palm oil giant Wilmar unfazed as watchdogs cry foul over Papua deforestation’

The article includes this quote from MapHubs Founder and CEO Leo Botrill: ‘Bottrill also warned against companies’ overreliance on HCV/HCS studies to make a decision, given that the assessments are “an overly convoluted and complex process” that can take months to complete while the forest is cut down in the meantime.'

It is important to understand the difference between quality assurance systems such as the HCVN ALS and monitoring platforms such as MapHubs. HCVN ALS Licensed Assessors are responsible for identifying important environmental and social areas that should not be cleared or developed.

The HCVN ALS evaluates the results of the identification process, at times resulting in additional hectarage of HCV and HCS forest areas when Licensed Assessors are required to revise reports. The HCVN ALS provides important baseline information for monitoring systems (such as MapHubs and others) of what areas should be monitored to ensure they are not damaged or destroyed.

While remote data is crucial both in the assessment phase and in subsequent monitoring of areas identified for protection, it is important to keep in mind that some information, such as the needs of local communities and their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), cannot be obtained remotely.  Therefore, both systems are complementary and should work together to support shared goals.

General recommendations for companies using the HCVN ALS as a system to ensure quality of HCV and HCV-HCSA Assessments

Ensure assessors are licensed by the HCVN ALS at the time of the assessment and that their reports are submitted to the HCVN ALS for evaluation.

Monitor report evaluation progress on the HCVN website. The summaries of satisfactory HCV and HCV-HCSA assessment reports are publicly available too.  

Ensure no clearing is taking place during the HCV or HCV-HCSA assessment.

If your HCV or HCV-HCSA assessment is being conducted within a wider system (for example, a certification scheme), ensure that you are complying with the complementary safeguards (e.g. negotiation of an ICLUP based in part on the HCV-HCSA assessment results in the case of the HCS Approach, and for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) as usually HCV or HCV-HCSA assessments are just one of the requirements to be met.

[i] About the Assessor Licensing Scheme (ALS)

The Assessor Licensing Scheme (ALS) was created by the HCVN in 2014 to provide independent evaluation of HCV and HCV-HCSA assessment reports submitted by Licensed Assessors. The ALS is run by the HCVN Secretariat with oversight from the Management Committee.

HCVRN ALS quality assurance is voluntary and may be used by sustainable commodity certifications schemes, companies, and other stakeholders as a safeguard to ensure their operations do not damage the most important environmental and social features in sites where development is planned.

See the ALS Specification for more information.