The Indonesian government this month issued a recommendation to the country's powerful palm oil lobby advising its member companies not to share their plantation data with other parties with outsiders, which include environmental groups, NGOs, and even consultants.

Environmental activists in Indonesia say this will make it easier for the government and palm oil producers to cover-up a litany of problems ranging from deforestation to land grabbing to labor rights abuses.  

"While the more progressive parts of the industry are starting to try and clean up the palm oil sector, the government is actively blocking transparency efforts, destroying the chance for the palm oil industry to clean up its reputation and undermining any work by Indonesia to meet its climate targets," said Asep Komarudin, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia.

Palm oil companies might use the directive as a mandate to withhold their data, which will clash with the rules of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).  Companies need to publish plantation maps on the RSPO website in order to meet the requirements for sustainability certification.  But those property borders are among the information the government doesn't want disclosed.

"On the international level, some of these companies have already adhered to their own standards, but the letter warns these companies not to meet those standards," Asep said, adding that the lobby "interpreted the letter as a regulation, even though it’s only an appeal."  He added, "That's going to create a problem because palm oil growers will withhold all information," he said.  "This will further damage our palm oil image, which is already under scrutiny.