Herakles ends bid to join green palm oil body over Cameroon plan

DAKAR, Sept 4 Tue Sep 4, 2012 11:30am EDT

DAKAR, Sept 4 (Reuters) - New York venture-finance firm Herakles Capital has withdrawn its application for membership of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) after complaints by environmental groups about its $350 million project in Cameroon.

Kuala Lumpur-based certification body RSPO said in a statement on Tuesday that Herakles had issued a written withdrawal of its application on Aug. 24, before the organisation could check the allegations made against the firm.

A Herakles spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

RSPO membership is meant to benefit palm oil producers by increasing their market access - particularly to buyers in the United States and Europe looking for sustainable product - as well as by bolstering access to investor capital and improving community and labour relations.

The body was formed in 2004, in part to help the industry improve its reputation in response to allegations it causes irreparable deforestation and damage to wildlife.

Herakles Farms is seeking to develop more than 60,000 hectares of palm oil plantation in Cameroon. Environmental groups including Greenpeace and WWF say the project could endanger wildlife and deprive locals of their livelihoods.

Greenpeace and other organisations had filed a complaint with RSPO alleging that Herakles' project violated Cameroonian laws. The groups also said the area earmarked for the plantation was in a biodiversity hotspot and "would disrupt the ecological landscape and migration routes of protected species."

Herakles has denied the allegations. It said in the letter withdrawing its application to RSPO, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, that it had submitted its application in mid-February and had not yet received a decision.

"The... grievance process is preventing the company from moving forward during a critical and time-sensitive period, in which we must move our first planting of seedlings from the nursery to the field," Herakles said in the letter.

"We remain committed to sustainable development and will continue to follow RSPO and IFC (International Finance Corp.) guidelines as our standards for any development related to oil palm," it said.

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