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Sustainable Palm Oil: Marketing Ploy or True Commitment?


Free, Prior and Informed Consent: Unimplemented and Under-enforced

The 16 case studies in the research reveal that the RSPO process has at times led to an improved understanding of the key issues, both for communities and companies, in achieving ‘sustainable development’ based on respect for fundamental human rights. Some of the procedural improvements may provide a basis for resolving land conflicts, and several companies have responded positively and adjusted their operations to better accommodate community livelihoods and demands.

But many more RSPO companies are running highly abbreviated processes to secure community consent, which are far from being ‘free’, ‘prior’ and ‘informed’. In the concession of PT Permata Hijau Pasaman I, a subsidiary company of Singapore-based multinational company Wilmar International, in West Sumatra, Indonesia, the process of land acquisition was characterised by selective consultation between the company and co-opted community representatives. In the case of Tanjung Bahagia Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Genting Plantations, lands and forests have been cleared and planted despite sustained objections from the communities.

Many companies are also failing to follow the RSPO procedures by not taking the requisite steps to recognise customary rights. In West Kalimantan, Indonesia, there has been collusive manipulation of the concept of customary rights by personnel from PT Agrowiratama, a subsidiary of the Indonesian Musim Mas group, in favour of local elites over local Melayu land-user communities. In East Kalimantan, Indonesia, PT Rea Kaltim Plantations, owned by British company REA Holdings PLC, did not undertake participatory mapping or land tenure surveys before acquiring land. This has now been recognised by the company, however, and mapping has begun.

Lack of Enforcement Triggers Conflicts and Withdrawal from RSPO

The trampling of rights often spurs uneven conflicts, where protests from local communities are met with arrests and physical assaults. SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon PLC in South West Cameroon, owned by American company Herakles Farms, actually withdrew its membership of the RSPO in September 2012 in reaction to a formal complaint lodged against it and wide-spread criticism of its project. In PT Permata Hijau Pasaman I, conflict between the company and local communities has led to various arrests and an on-going court case at the Supreme Court of the Republic of Indonesia.

The studies also show that existing conflict resolution mechanisms, including those of the RSPO, have yet to produce tangible results for local communities. Both the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (IFC CAO) and RSPO conflict resolution processes, despite having established some important precedents, lack both the mandate and the capacity to remedy the huge number of disputes between companies and communities.

Lack of company goodwill and transparency further hinder the effectiveness of the IFC CAO mechanism. In PT Asiatic Persada (PT AP) in Jambi, for instance, the company bulldozed the dwellings of community objectors into nearby creeks. IFC CAO mediation was initiated in 2012 but has come to a standstill due to the sale of PT AP by Wilmar without any due consultation with community members engaged in the mediation process. Wilmar effectively washed its hands of the concession and the problems it created.

“The RSPO only works if the commitments its members make are genuine,” concluded Marcus Colchester of Forest Peoples Programme. “RSPO certification was not meant to be a marketing ploy. It was meant to represent a wholehearted dedication to respecting the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities, and the lands that they call home. As an RSPO member, we are calling on the RSPO as a whole to reassert this commitment and live up to it.”


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Source: FPP, Sawit Watch and TUK Indonesia.