Thursday, 7 December 2017

RSPO Must Respond to Complaints Against Sime Darby: Rights Group

A community rights group has urged the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to be more responsive in dealing with complaints against Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

By : Dames Alexander Sinaga | on 5:44 PM December 05, 2017
Category : News, Environment, Human Rights

Jakarta. A community rights group has urged the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, to be more responsive in dealing with complaints by residents of two villages in West Kalimantan against Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby, which they accuse of stealing their indigenous lands.

Sime Darby has expressed its willingness to resolve the conflict.

"If the RSPO does not provide concrete solutions immediately, the community plans to sue the RSPO through the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development]," rights group Transformation for Justice (TuK Indonesia) consultant Norman Jiwan said in Jakarta on Thursday (30/11).

Norman, who is the legal consultant for the indigenous Dayak community inhabiting the villages of Kerunang and Entapang, said his team has already prepared the documents to be submitted to the OECD headquarters in Paris.

"[We] are just waiting for the right moment to file them."

Redatus Musa, who represents the Kerunang and Entapang community, urges Sime Darby to comply with RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production and return the land, as Criterion 2.2 of the document says: "The right to use the land can be demonstrated, and is not legitimately contested by local communities with demonstrable rights."

"We have complained [to the RSPO], saying that the Malaysian company has trespassed into our indigenous land and turned it into a plasma plantation," Redatus said, adding that the RSPO's mechanisms have been inefficient, as the complaint, which was filed in 2012, is still unresolved.

According to TuK, Sime Darby, through its West Kalimantan subsidiary Mitral Austral Sejahtera (MAS), has been operating on the indigenous lands since 1995, without free, prior and informed consent.

In 1995, MAS approached local communities and promised that the plasma plantation construction will be followed by electrification, infrastructure developments, housing, hospitals, schools and employment opportunities for the residents of Kerunang and Entapang. The promises resulted in an agreement to lease the land until 2022.

Despite no formal contract with the communities, MAS obtained cultivation permits (HGU) and a land-use contract valid until 2030.

The Kerunang and Entapang communities were not aware of these developments.

In 2007, Sime Darby took over MAS. The two villages have been urging the company to prove its right to cultivate the land.

Sime Darby's Response

Sime Darby said in a statement on Monday (04/12) that the land dispute has been discussed at the RSPO's annual meetings since 2012.

"Throughout this period, RSPO complaint manager also visited the communities four times. As of December 2017, SDP [Sime Darby Plantation] management has held 25 meetings with the communities surrounding MAS to earnestly resolve the outstanding issues," the statement said.

The Malaysian palm oil giant said it is fully aware of the situation and it sympathizes with the communities of Kerunang and Entapang.

"However, we are unable at this point to unilaterally accede to the community's demands over the main contention areas ... as to do so would result in a breach of Sime Darby Plantation's terms of the concessions agreement signed with the government of Indonesia."

Sime Darby also said it is ready to assist in dialogues with the relevant government officials to find an equitable and legal solution for all stakeholders.

"The company looks forward to the cooperation of the communities towards ensuring that the eventual return of their land is socially, environmentally and economically viable," Sime Darby said, adding that it is also committed to the principles of sustainable development, and will continue to work to resolve the situation and fully cooperate with the RSPO's complaints panel.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Rapeculture, fight for its eradication!!!

Opinion by Norman Jiwan

What is rapeculture?

According to wikipedia 'rape culture' is a sociological concept used to describe a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. Wikipedia gives examples of rape culture associated with behaviors like victim blaming, slut shaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these.

Shannon Ridgway in an article "25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture" shares more rape culture but not limited to:

1. A university in Canada that allows the following student orientation chant: “Y is for your sister. O is for oh-so-tight. U is for underage. N is for no consent. G is for grab that ass.”
2. Pop music that tells women “you know you want it” because of these “blurred lines” (of consent).
3. A judge who sentenced only 30 days in jail to a 50-year-old man who raped a 14-year-old girl (who later committed suicide), and defended that the girl was “older than her chronological age.”
4. Mothers who blame girls for posting sexy selfies and leading their sons into sin, instead of talking with their sons about their responsibility for their own sexual expression.
5. Photo memes like this:
6. Supporting athletes who are charged with rape and calling their victims career-destroyers.
7. Companies that create decals of a woman bound and gagged in order to “promote their business.”
8. People who believe that girls “allow themselves to be raped.”
9. Journalists who substitute the word “sex” for “rape” – as if they’re the same thing.
10. Politicians distinguishing “legitimate rape” and stating that rape is “something that God intended to happen,” among other horrendous claims.
11. Calling college students who have the courage to report their rapes liars.
12. The ubiquity of street harassment – and how victims are told that they’re “overreacting” when they call it out.
13. Victims not being taken seriously when they report rapes to their university campuses.
14. Rape jokes – and people who defend them.
15. Sexual assault prevention education programs that focus on women being told to take measures to prevent rape instead of men being told not to rape.
16. The victimization of hospital patients, especially people with mental health issues and the elderly, by the very people who are there to protect them.
17. Reddit threads with titles like “You just have to make sure she’s dead” when linking to the story of a 13-year-old girl in Pakistan being raped and buried alive.
18. Reddit threads dedicated to men causing women pain during sex (I’m not going to give the thread credence by linking to it).
19. Twitter hashtags that support accused rapists and blame victims.
20. Publicly defending celebrities accused of rape just because they’re celebrities and ignoring or denouncing what the victim has to say.
21. Assuming that false reporting for sexual assault cases are the norm, when in reality, they’re only 2-8%, which is on par with grand theft auto.
22. Only 3% of rapists ever serving a day in jail.
23. Women feeling less safe walking the streets at night than men do.
24. 1-in-5 women and 1-in-71 men having reported experiencing rape.
25. The fact that we have to condition ourselves not to use violent language in our everyday conversations.

Now what can you do?

Let's start to reflect and count if our behaviors or witness one of the above examples in our daily life. You have to admit honestly if you were contaminated and associated with rapeculture behaviors in the past were unacceptable, is currently violating both women and gender rights, and will be intolerable in the future. Accept it even if you did them in the past and then identify possible ways to address factors that triggers rapeculture. Appreciate yourself when you refrain from doing it.

When you notice, see and hear rapeculture then let yourself dare to express protest clearly and disagreement explicitly.

Start now from here and near, from yourself, your family and community.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Land shapes and forms civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights

An opinion by Norman Jiwan

This article tries to explore and review applicable sources of interpretation and information with regards to land and human rights. In 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights published Land and Human Rights: Standards and Applications. This is a one of most important sources of legal interpretation of international human rights laws that summarizes applicable international human rights standards relevant with land and human rights. It draws all fields of human rights namely (1) non-discrimination and equality; (2) rule of law; (3) right to adequate food; (4) right to adequate housing; (5) right to effective remedy; (6) right to freedom of movement and residence; (7) rights to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly and association; (8) right to freedom of religion; (9) right to information; (10) right to life; (11) right to participation; (12) right to property; (13) right to self-determination; (14) right to take part in cultural life; (15) right to water and sanitation; (16) rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands, territories and resources, including water; (17) rights of human rights defenders working on land issues; (18) safeguards against limitation of human rights for public interest; (19) responsibilities of business enterprises and State duties; and (20) International Humanitarian and Criminal Law.

The 4th Amendment of 1945 Constitution (UUD 1945) draws and establishes Chapter XA that stipulates fundamental elements of human rights in Indonesian highest norms and legal framework. This fundamental legal framework becomes major sources of policies, laws and implementing regulations. It shall be a legal reference for adjustment and harmonization towards eliminating and reforming the unjust colonial doctrines and legal practices, discriminatory laws and regulations. There should be no privilege for State and non corporate actors exploit and enjoy the benefits from discriminatory laws and lenience regulations.

Exploiting legal loopholes, for examples, business practices and operations lead to excessive exploitation of land, forests, and natural resources; harassment of workers, smallholders, contractors, etc.; intimidation of agrarian, peasant and women activists; manipulation of local elites; and criminalization against community leaders and rights defenders.

Second examples of justifying non legal means used by palm oil producers, owners, operators, suppliers and investors in order to expropriate land rights, forest and other natural resources from indigenous peoples and local communities namely operating business non exist laws and implementing regulations on FPIC; non exist local regulation on the recognition of rights of indigenous peoples; invoking illegitimate sultanate authorities and rights over indigenous territories and resources, etc.

Some examples of violations of the principles of and FPIC in practices namely the issuance of principle permit, location permit, environmental management license, mill building title; manipulation of information; incomplete information; incomplete description of legal information and implication; manipulation of local elites for favorable decisions; fake community representation; empty benefits and false promises; deficient mitigation and explanation of social, economic and environmental impacts;

Land and Human Rights & Indonesian 1945 Constitution

First, Article 28A Every person shall have the right to live and to defend his/her life and existence. Land is major source of life for land based livelihoods, agricultural activities, customary values, ancestral domain and identities. Land has been cultivated, occupied, used and defined distinctive social and cultural status of native communities from migrant communities and transmigration citizens. Land and territories have been major source of livelihoods and home to primary and secondary forests, agroforest trees and fruits, important sources of fishing and hunting grounds, river and water courses, fresh air, non timber forest produce (NTFP), source of herbal and medicines. The many uses, significant values, roles and functions of land have established a strong relation with human identity and integrity which shall define and establish right to live and defend life of every single person in the community. Contemporary development forms and actions, or past practices with intended and unintended impacts and/or results in impairing, compromising, reducing and taking over land and natural resources are violation of the law and human rights.

Second, Article 28C in particular verse (2) Every person shall have the right to improve him/herself through collective struggle for his/her rights to develop his/ her society, nation and state. The collective struggle to secure and exercise the sustainability of, quality and integrity of human rights shaped and established distinct civil, political, social, economic and cultural norms, beliefs, values, and practices. These distinctive and survive traditional values and practices have long been established, defined and influenced the practices and traditions of ancestor’s land use, occupation, cultivation and conservation that survive and inherited since time of immemorial. Any actions and legal measures interfering, preventing and eliminating or business practices that neglect and disregard the collective struggle for human rights to property [land and natural resources] morally unacceptable, legally unjustifiable and shall be punishable by laws. The collective struggle for individual and community rights in land and natural resources is obvious example of rights to develop society, nation and the state. The collective community struggle for land rights and natural resources shall be construed as legal exercises and categorically justified common practices as struggle for freedom and wellbeing of the Indonesians as independent state.

Third, Article 28D verse (1) Every person shall have the rights of recognition, guarantees, protection and certainty before a just law, and of equal treatment before the law. Recognition, protection, enforcement, advancement and enjoyment of property rights are clear forms and basic practices of a just law and of equal treatment before the law. In light of this article, there should no compelling economic and commercial reason for corporate actors including their subsidiaries and suppliers ignoring and avoiding the basic practices of rule of law and equality before the law as human rights. Developmental activities and business operations without due diligence and attention cannot be justified even if the practices occurred in the past when the constitution is not exist. Property right namely to land and other natural resources shall be established and exercised in the rule of law and equal treatment before the law within the framework of recognition, guarantees, protection and certainty. HGU certificates and land titles issued in the past without FPIC and even if no local implementing regulation on FPIC shall not be used and justified to ignore the progressive implementation of Article 28D since its effective in force. The State officials shall not extend and accept any application to renew and extend HGU and land titles that violated Article 28D of the constitution. After the amendment of the constitution, State officials shall have put corrective legal actions are very important to make sure that problematic HGU and land titles do not diminish the customary land rights of indigenous peoples. Private and corporate actors should establish, take and implement internal due diligence and human rights assessment to assess their business impacts on land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. An ongoing and outstanding land conflicts due to past expropriation should be resolved properly with immediate remedial measures with proper compensation and restitution to the satisfaction of affected parties as well as guarantee of non repetition.

Fourth, Article 28G verse (1) Every person shall have the right to protection of his/herself, family, honour, dignity, and property, and shall have the right to feel secure against and receive protection from the threat of fear to do or not do something that is a human right. Land and natural resources are fundamental sources that define, determine and establish elements, shapes and states of individual dignity and property. The integrity, dignity and identity of individual and group of individual persons exist and establish economic, social and cultural relations and interactions that form family and community where the collectiveness of individual persons whose human rights to protection of his/her property namely land and natural resources both individuals and collective ownerships.

Ratification of international human rights laws

Indonesia has ratified core united nations’ human rights conventions, into subsequent and respective implementing national laws and regulations relevant with the recognition, guarantee, enforcement and protection of property rights. International convention on civil and political (ICCPR), convention on economic, social and cultural rights (CESCR), convention on the elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW), international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (ICERD), convention on the rights of the child (CRC), and convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD). In addition to human rights conventions, Indonesia has also ratified into laws some core labour conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Indonesia also supported and voted in favour of some important declaration of the United Nations especially United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

According to Masstricht Guidelines on the violations of economic, social and cultural rights stipulates that victims, both individuals and groups are entitled to remedies and other responses to violations. Section 22 stipulates that ‘any person or group who is a victim of a violation of an economic, social or cultural right should have access to effective judicial or other appropriate remedies at both national and international levels.’ The Guidelines section 23 further stipulates adequate reparation for all victims of violations which may take the form of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation and satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition. The Guidelines also stipulate provision on acts by non-state entities which derives from the obligation to protect includes the State's responsibility to ensure that private entities or individuals, including transnational corporations over which they exercise jurisdiction, do not deprive individuals of their economic, social and cultural rights. States are responsible for violations of economic, social and cultural rights that result from their failure to exercise due diligence in controlling the behaviour of such non-state actors.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Human rights vision, missions and commitments

Jakarta, 21 July 2017 - Constitutional Court building: I was interviewed by Selection Panel (Pansel Komnas HAM) as one of 28 candidates for National Human Rights Commissioners 2017-2022. Here are my vision, missions and commitments that I briefly shared in front of the Panel:


Making Komnas HAM a platform for advancing and protecting human rights in advocating equitable and sustainable management of ecological and natural resources for indigenous peoples, local communities, food farmers, oil palm smallholders, plantation workers, vulnerable women and children.


1) Promoting the accelerated implementation and realisation of Komnas HAM Strategic Plans 2015-2019;
2) Ensuring the increased human rights advancement, protection, enforcement, and fulfillment in the fields of ecological and natural resources management for indigenous peoples, local communities, food farmers, plantation workers, vulnerable women and children;
3) Making the governance of Komnas HAM with integrity, independent and professional in exercising its duties, functions, and authorities based on the constitution.


1) Fight for ecological (green constitution) and agrarian justice (agrarian constitutionalism);
2) Fight for affirmative measures and justice especially for vulnerable group indigenous peoples, women and children;
3) Fight for gender equality and justice for women and their groups;
4) Fight against all forms and practices of discrimination, intolerance and radicalism;
5) Fight for justice for religious and belief minorities, persons with disabilities and citizens with special needs;
6) Fight against all forms of violent, execution and persecution measures by and towards others, including LGBT groups;
7) Making and creating Komnas HAM with integrity and corruption-free organisation.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Strengthen [Weak] NDPE reporting guideline

By Norman Jiwan

Why? It lacks some basic and globally acceptable reporting indicators on anti-corruption.

There is nothing wrong with a much-applauded corporate policy commitment on no deforestation, no peat and no exploitation. It is well-known as NDPE commitment.

Having an online reference and publicly accessible reporting platform applicable to corporate wide is not only good but also important to promote zero deforestation, no peat and no exploitation. Newly Released Guidance Aims to Improve Transparency in the Palm Oil Industry as it is available at…/newly-released-guidance-aims-to-imp….

There is no reasonable doubt that the Government of Indonesia is tirelessly fighting to eradicate all material forms of notorious governmental corruption and unethical business practices. Despite strong and continual governmental efforts in eradicating corruption, the Indonesian palm oil sector is still ripe with corrupt business practices and transactions in palm oil.

It is with regret to say that I am, (possibly many Indonesians are) disappointed by the fact that the spirit of promoting ‘anti-corruption’ in the NDPE stakeholders is sufficiently absent. It is regretful that the NDPE does not address the basic best practice elements of anti-corruption in palm oil production be incorporated a final text of the NDPE reporting guideline!

Concerns with the massive corrupt practices and the expected anti-corruption measurable reporting indicators were raised and proposed in the NGOs workshop in Jakarta yet they were neither clearly spelt out nor integrated in the finally released reporting guideline.

There were documented incidents of vindicated graft and bribery cases in the issuance of permits; notorious governor, central and provincial forestry department scandals involved corruption to release 1-million hectares of tropical rainforest in East Kalimantan; Riau-governor case; and bribery case of Buol district land use right (HGU); concessions are overlapping with forest areas; many oil palm plantation companies are still operating without HGU land title; fires by and inside legal operations of oil palm plantations; etc.

During the NGOs workshop session in Jakarta, some participants did raise and explain why corruption is a material issue in the palm oil sector in Indonesia. The raised concerns on corruption in the palm oil business in Indonesia was supported by and endorsed without objection from other participants of the workshop.

There are three fundamentally compelling and material justification why policy commitment on anti-corruption is very important in the Indonesian palm oil industry.

First, the 2003 United Nations Convention against Anti-Corruption (UNCAC) especially Article 12 on Private Sector’s preventive measures against corruption. Indonesia is state party to the convention and has ratified the convention respectively by a ratification law Number 7 Year 2006.

Second, RSPO Criterion 1.3 requires some voluntary policy commitment indicators on ethical conducts and business transactions where majority of palm oil producers are coming from Indonesia and Malaysia. Unethical business conducts and transactions are unacceptable in both producing countries.

Third, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) lays out guideline on anti-corruption global reporting. They are management approaches; risks specific anti-corruption policies and procedures; capacity building training activities; and confirmed incidents of corruption and actions taken.

The recently released NDPE reporting guideline has missed an important best practice and materially justifiable issue on anti-corruption. The current NDPE reporting guideline fails to provide measurable efforts and best practices to prevent the ongoing rampant business sector and potential ripe with corruption as well as future unethical business conducts and transactions in the global palm oil production.

How do we check if the NDPE reporting guideline really does qualify the principles of transparency and accountability of palm oil production without basic elements of anti-corruption reporting?

Jakarta, 13 March 2017


Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Proceedings of Chico Vive: The Legacy of Chico Mendes and the Global Grassroots Environmental Movement

Online E-book at

The Cambridge Institutes Press (CIP) is pleased to release the eBook Chico Vive!. It is available for download in PDF form, free of charge. Please click on this link CHICO VIVE! to obtain your complimentary copy.

This eBook is based on the Chico Vive! Conference, held in April 2014, at the American University in Washington, D.C. The Chico Vive! Conference brought together environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and ethnic minorities from around the world. They gathered to commemorate the life of the assassinated leader of the rubber tappers of Brazil’s Amazon, Chico Mendes. In December 1988, gunmen in the employ of large land owners, shot and killed Mendes, in a cowardly ambush in front of his wife and children at his western Amazonian home in Xapurí, Acre, Brazil.

Mendes’ only “crime” was defending the rubber tappers, their indigenous allies, and the forest in which they lived against the rapacious “development” program of the large land owners and government. The landlords and their official backers were installing pasture and cattle ranches in the state of Acre after pushing out all of its inhabitants, often with violence, and burning the rain forest to the ground. When Chico Mendes died, he had been leading a 15-year struggle to resist this brand of “developmentalism.” With his allies among Indians, environmentalists, and members of the academic community, he was beginning to invent a new path for sustainable, inclusive development that would not devastate the Amazon’s original, forest dwelling inhabitants. By 1988, his tireless organizational work and creative approach to envisioning the Amazon’s future was drawing world-wide attention to the rubber tappers and their plight, particularly in Washington, D.C.

At the conference, it became clear that Mendes’ struggle is similar to that of many other people around the world as they deal with the impact on their societies and environments of “developmentalism:” a form of development that takes into account neither the interests of people who already live in areas to be “developed” nor the environments that they inhabit. Mining, ranching, and logging are frequently the cornerstones of such developmentalism as well as large-scale hydro-electric dams. Representatives from these social movements convened in Washington, in April 2014, to remember Chico Mendes and to tell the world about similarly negative development patterns on virtually all the continents. It is not that these movements are against development, per se, but they are in favor of participating peacefully and effectively in the decisions that affect them and doing their best to pursue development without destroying the natural environment.

Given the conference’s success, it may truly be said that “Chico Lives!” (“Chico Vive!”). We are delighted, therefore, to publish, as a free eBook, the analyses, discussions, observations, and calls for solidarity that took place in Washington, in April 2014, and that continue. This world-wide struggle for the future of the planet and its minorities is by no means over.

Dr. Linda Rabben, the human rights consultant to the Rainforest Foundation US and author of Brazil’s Indians and the Onslaught of Civilization has been the tireless organizer and leader of the Chico Vive! initiative. With absolutely minimal financial support, Dr. Rabben made both the conference possible at American University and the book resulting from it which is coming out today at CIP-CIBS.

A warm acknowledgement is also due to members of the Chico Vive! committee who all made significant contributions to making this event and book happen. They include:

Eve Bratman, assistant professor, International Development Program, School of International Service, American University.
Janet Chernela, professor of anthropology and Latin American studies, University of Maryland.
John Garrison, senior civil society specialist, World Bank.
Laura Graham, associate professor of anthropology, University of Iowa; film maker, co-director and producer, “Owners of the water: conflict and collaboration over rivers.”
Christine Halvorson, program director, Rainforest Foundation US.
Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair, H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
Biorn Maybury-Lewis, executive director and co-founder, Cambridge Institute for Brazilian Studies; professor of political science, University of Massachusetts Boston; Indaba Coop (Geneva).
Andrew Miller, advocacy director, Amazon Watch (Washington, D.C.).
Andrew Revkin, blogger, Dot Earth, New York Times; senior fellow for environmental understanding, Pace University Academy for Applied Environmental Studies.
Gomercindo Rodrigues, human rights attorney, Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil; author,Walking the Forest with Chico Mendes: Struggle for Justice in the Amazon.

Cambridge Institutes Press (CIP) is the publishing branch of two NGOs in Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge Institute for Brazilian Studies (CIBS) and Association for Central Asian Civilizations & Silk Road Studies (ACANSRS). A special thanks is due to ACANSRS director and also the co-founder of CIP, Dr. Mariko Walter as well as to the president and co-founder of CIBS, Dr. James Ito-Adler. The Chico Vive! eBook is a joint publication of CIP, the Forest Peoples Programme, and the Rainforest Foundation US. American University made available its excellent Washington, D.C. venue for the conference itself.

We, at CIBS, are sincerely grateful for all the institutional and co-publication support for this new eBook.
Above all, we are grateful to the indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities who were able to make their voices heard at the Chico Vive! Conference and who continue to carry this critical and creative struggle forward around the world.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Beyond palm oil certification

4 May 2015

Swedish companies should not content themselves with RSPO certification, says Norman Jiwan to Swedwatch in an interview about the palm oil industry. And consumers should demand palm oil that is not only good for wildlife, but also free from conflict and forced labour.

Norman Jiwan, the founder of the NGO TuK INDONESIA, recently visited Sweden to share his experiences from working with communities affected by palm oil companies, and to give input to Sweden’s development of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.

The global palm oil industry produces 60 million tonnes of crude palm oil per year. Only 12 million tonnes come from plantations which are certified under the voluntary sustainability standard RSPO (Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil), and even certified plantations are facing allegations of social and environmental conflicts. Swedwatch met with Norman Jiwan to understand more about the current sustainability challenges on the ground in Indonesia, and to hear his views on how Swedish and European companies and consumers can contribute to a more sustainable production and sourcing of palm oil.

According to Norman Jiwan, consumers should first question why the Swedish companies have such low certification ambitions. For example, how many years will it take for Sweden’s largest palm oil importer, Århus Karlshamn (AAK), to reach its target of 100% certified oil, Norman Jiwan asks.

At the same time he appeals to Swedish consumers, and not least companies, to see beyond the RSPO label, and instead demand palm oil free from conflict, forced labour, and deforestation. Strong national legal frameworks and enforcement mechanism are required for a voluntary certification like RSPO to work, and this is lacking in Indonesia. Therefore companies cannot rely solely on the certification to ensure a palm oil production which fully respects human rights and environmental standards, according to Jiwan.

– The fact that some company standards are now more far reaching than RSPO itself really tells us something about the current inadequacy of the certification. Forced evictions of communities, use of the chemical paraquat, and child labour issues are recurring problems also at certified plantations.

It is estimated that there are currently 40,000 stateless children of migrant workers living at the oil palm plantations along the Indonesian and Malaysian borders. These children have no papers and no rights, and the palm oil companies draw on this pool of cheap labour, Jiwan adds.

Swedwatch will continue to follow how companies abide by international norms and standards in the full supply chain - from financing streams to establishing plantations, and to the end use in cosmetics, food and fuels. For the full Q&A and more detailed answers from the interview, as well as facts about Jiwan, see the attached document.

For more information on consumption of palm oil and it's consequences, see also Naturskyddsföreningen.


Friday, 25 July 2014

Book Reviews

Pye, O. & Bhattacharya, J. (Eds.) (2013).
The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia. A Transnational Perspective.
Singapore: ISEAS Publishing. ISBN978-981-4311-44-1. xxi + 283 pages.

Citation Pichler, M. (2012). Book Review: Pye, O., & Bhattacharya, J. (Eds.) (2013). The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia. A Transnational Perspective. ASEAS - Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies, 5(2), 376-380.

With 50 percent of all products in European supermarkets containing palm oil and a rising demand for biofuels in the EU, palm oil has emerged as the fastest growing monoculture in the world. While consumption is spreading all over the world, production is basically centred in Malaysia and Indonesia, which account for more than 80 percent of the global production.

The edited volume The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia. A Transnational Perspective focuses on this single commodity from a transnational perspective, high lighting some of the most contentious issues around palm oil expansion in the region, and linking them to emerging resistance and campaigning against the social and environmental costs of the boom. Edited by the social scientists Oliver Pye and Jayati Bhattacharya, the book comprises an introduction and 11 chapters as an outcome of a joint workshop between the University of Bonn, Germany, and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, in 2009. The workshops brought together academic researchers, NGO campaigners, policy makers, and company associates to discuss the palm oil controversy. Thus, the volume is a brisk composition of different approaches in addressing a contentious model of agricultural expansion.

In the first chapter, Oliver Pye introduces a transnational perspective as a guiding framework for the book, which means to “understand the emergence of connected and overlapping but distinct economic, social, and political spaces which cross and connect nation states without necessarily becoming a general, global phenomenon” (p. 5). With regard to the palm oil industry, Pye identifies three major transnational processes: (1) a transnational turn of the palm oil industry, (2) a transnational labour regime, and (3) the emergence of transnational environmental activism.

With regard to the first pattern, Teoh Cheng Hai shows that the transnational turn of the palm oil industry has been mainly triggered by Malaysia in the 1990s. Since then, the Malaysian palm oil industry has shifted from nationally oriented plantation development to a transnational expansion of Malaysian investments, mainly to Indonesia for upstream industries (plantation companies) and to Europe, China, and India for downstream industries (palm oil processing companies). At the same time, vertically integrated “mega palm oil based corporations” (p. 29) emerged through concentration processes and have become major players in controlling the commodity chain. Reversing the picture, Norman Jiwan links the Malaysian expansion to the Indonesian experience. Jiwan refers to the liberalisation policies stipulated by the IMF during the Asian crisis as a major enabling factor for the expansion of Malaysian plantation companies to Indonesia in the late 1990s. Despite the role of international donors, Jiwan highlights the important function of the Indonesian state (both at the national and regional scale) in enabling and promoting palm oil expansion, which is linked to devastating environmental consequences (biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and soil pollution) and social conflicts over land, indigenous rights, and working conditions in the plantations. On a local level, Junji Nagata and Sachiho W. Arai complement the picture of the changing palm oil industry with a contribution on the plantation sector in Riau. The Sumatran province occupies the largest share of palm oil plantations in Indonesia with 24 percent of the working population directly linked to this industry. Mary Luz Menguita-Feranil geographically moves the view east to the palm oil expansion in the Philippines that has generally eluded attention so far. Menguita-Feranil argues that although the ambitious expansion plans of the Philippine government have not materialised yet, Malaysian investments as well as national biofuel policies may be an important trigger in the future.

Following the second transnational pattern, the next two chapters focus on the transnational labour regime in the South-East Asian palm oil industry. Johan Saravanamuttu highlights the enormous reliance of the Malaysian palm oil industry on migrant work, currently 90 percent of the foreign workers in Malaysia come from Indonesia. Saravanamuttu characterises the Malaysian palm oil industry as a “flexible foreign labour regime” (p. 131) that is based on exclusivity and transience. Thus, migrant workers have to enter the destination country alone (i.e. without their family) and need to return ‘home’ after the contract expires. Furthermore, migrant workers are often sent back home in times of economic downturn or when ‘causing trouble’ in the form of strikes or unionisation. While Saravanamuttu focuses on more general and quantitative data on migrant labour in Malaysia, Fadzilah Majid Cooks and Dayan Suria Mulia link the transnational labour regime in Malaysia with a more detailed picture of the situation in the province of Sabah. Following a qualitative research agenda, they analyse the perceptions of the Sabahan population towards Indonesian migrants and the role of the latter in nationalist politics in Sabah. Cooke and Mulia show that the dominant view articulated in the media and often supported by political elites and companies is based on the construction of “cultural dilution” presenting migrants “as a homogenous group, prone to breaking the law and criminal activities” (p. 147). Not surprisingly, the concrete experiences of people working with labour migrants in the plantation industry (Sabahan taxi drivers and plantation workers) show a much more differentiated picture of the situation.

The third part of the volume analyses the emergence of transnational environmental activism as an important outcome of a palm oil industry that transcends national boundaries. Oetami Dewi starts with a focus on the Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega Project where 1.8 million hectares of land on the Indonesia-Malaysian border were supposed to be planted with oil palm. Controversially, the project collided with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) promoted Heart of Borneo project, a plan to allocate a cross-border conservation area over parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Both an outcome of transnational strategies, Dewi argues to transcend the dichotomy between plantation development and conservation areas, which both tend to ignore local communities’ rights, and argues for an alternative approach that guarantees control over land for local communities. From a more analytical perspective, Oliver Pye analyses major differences in transnational environmental activism on the basis of two major campaigns that have emerged around the palm oil controversy, namely the formation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the call for a moratorium on biofuels in the EU. Pye argues that transnational activists connect local protests, initiatives, and NGOs in South-East Asia with concerned consumers, activists, and campaigns in Europe. However, these transnational activists are no homogenous group. Thus, a differentiation between international NGOs, transnational social movement organisations (TSMOs), and transnational advocacy networks (TANs) proves helpful for analysing different strategies and aims in transnational campaigning. According to Pye, international NGOs have been major contributors to the formation of the RSPO, focusing on the certification of palm oil. On the other hand, TSMOs and TANs in the campaign for a moratorium on biofuels have transcended the strategy of market-based instruments and call for a rethinking of the current plantation system as such. Focusing more on the former part of transnational activism, Eric Wakker introduces a concrete research tool for NGOs to analyse the complex involvement of different actors in the palm oil industry. The Resource Trade Cycle Analysis (RETRAC) can start from either a specific product (e.g. palm oil, biodiesel) or a certain actor (e.g. plantation company, investment bank) to investigate the “linkages between consumption and production of natural resource-based products” (p. 224) and develop subsequent NGO strategies.

With regard to the specific transnational links to Europe, Joana Chiavari discusses the EU biofuel policies and their possible impact on South-East Asia, and Patrick Anderson completes the volume with a contribution on indigenous peoples and the palm oil boom in Indonesia. Although Anderson analyses the Indonesian state as a major actor in the conflict, he stresses the role of the international movement for indigenous rights as well as the RSPO in politicising the topic and influencing struggles on the ground.

The volume at hand is an appreciated contribution to research about natural resource extraction in the global South and the linkages to Europe, both with regard to investments and incentives as well as to environmental activism. Whereas most studies about palm oil focus either on specific case studies or the connection between plantations and deforestation and the disappearance of orang-utans, this book tries to shed light on a more complex and diverse picture of palm oil development and campaigning in South-East Asia and beyond. The volume stresses the importance of transnationalisation in the palm oil production without neglecting the crucial role of the nation state. Although national laws and regulations in support of a transna tional palm oil industry are in place, they often lag behind with regard to social and environmental safeguards and transfer these responsibilities to international market-based instruments like the RSPO.

The book benefits from contributions from both academic and non-academic research and marks some broader research lines for future studies on conflicts about large-scale agricultural investments, not only on palm oil in South-East Asia but also on other commodities and in other geographical regions. Although the transnational perspective systematically outlined in the introduction is not always coherently realised in the individual chapters, the book provides excellent starting points for both researchers and activists who are interested in natural resource extraction from a transnational perspective.

Melanie Pichler
University of Vienna, Austria, & ASEAS Editorial Board

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


February 05, 2014

Celebrating the legacy of Chico Mendes and the courage of thousands of present-day grassroots activists who follow in his footsteps.

April 4-6, 2014
School of International Service
American University, Washington, D.C.

See full program here.

Meet activists and experts from around the world to discuss and debate global environmental issues that affect all of us.

Brazilian environmental martyr and rural union leader Chico Mendes was killed in 1988. In the past 25 years grassroots activists in many places have mobilized to protect the environment and their communities from destruction. Every month someone like Chico Mendes is killed somewhere in the world as a result of nonviolent advocacy.

Activists and experts will meet at the Chico Vive conference to talk about Mendes’ legacy and their own efforts on the front lines of sustainability. The agenda will include keynote speakers from Brazil and the United States; grassroots panelists from Indonesia, Guatemala, and other countries; cultural performances; and a mini-film festival of documentaries about Chico Mendes and today’s grassroots environmental movements.

Participants include Edwin Cisco (Liberia), Aunty Joan Hendriks (Australia), Norman Jiwan (Indonesia), Chief Liz Logan (Canada), Godfrey Massay (Tanzania), Raimundo Mendes de Barros (Brazil), Cristian Otzin (Guatemala), Cristhian Prado Andrade (Ecuador), Gomercindo Rodrigues (Brazil), Georgina Shanley (USA), Hiparidi Top’tiro (Brazil), Ernesto Tzi (Guatemala), Tek Vannara (Cambodia), Franco Viteri (Ecuador).

For more information contact or, or call 301-270-3003. To pre-register for the conference go to
See full program here.

The Chico Vive conference is cosponsored and funded by 20 nonprofit organizations, and foundations and other donors, including Cultural Survival:
American University Global Environmental Politics program (host), Action Aid, AIUSA Group 297, Amazon Watch, AU Center for Environmental Filmmaking, AU International Development Program Student Association, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Cultural Survival, EcoSense, Ford Foundation, Forest Peoples Programme, Georgetown University Environmental Law Society, Global Witness, Greenpeace, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Oxfam America, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Foundation, University of Maryland Latin American Studies Center, and International Labor Rights Forum.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

World Leaders Honor Chico Mendes' Fight for Environmental and Land Rights

Monday, 30 June 2014 09:35 By Raven Rakia, Truthout | News Analysis

Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news and make a tax-deductible donation today!

On the first weekend in April, grassroots leaders and activists from all over the world met in a conference room in Washington DC for The Chico Mendes conference, named after indigenous environmental rights activist from Brazil, Francisco Alves "Chico" Mendes, a rubber tapper from the Amazon region, assassinated in 1988 by a rancher.

He joined the fight to protect the Amazon, the environment and people's livelihoods from cattle ranchers, government officials and large-scale mining corporations - whose profit depends on the destruction of the environment. In one of his most well-known quotes, Chico says, "First, I thought I was fighting for the rubber tappers, then I thought I was fighting for the Amazon, then I realized I was fighting for humanity." Throughout his life he worked as a rubber tapper, a trade union leader, and an activist before being shot down in 1988. At the conference, environmental activists met from all over the world to discuss tactics and strategy, commemorate Chico's life and discuss how to continue Chico's fight.

It's important to "think about Chico Mendes as a person, not as someone mythical or special" because then "people think they can't do what he did."

"Power for power's sake, money for money's sake," asserted Marina Silva as she described what she saw as the core issue of the times we live in. One of the keynote speakers for the conference and former environment minister of Brazil, Marina Silva, spoke with urgency as she labeled the time we live in as "the crisis of our civilization." The crisis has three parts to it - all of which are structural: economic, political and social. But it's more than just a mere crisis, "We run a risk of there not being a point of return anymore; that's what concerns me," she said during her keynote speech. According to her, we're currently witnessing "the collapse of our civilization . . . just like the Greeks, Romans and pre-Columbians" eventually witnessed theirs.

Marina knew Chico Mendes from the time she was 17 years old. She describes him as someone whose vision and projects were ahead of his time, but she also believes that he had a legacy that was "projected onto him." It's important to "think about Chico Mendes as a person, not as someone mythical or special" because then "people think they can't do what he did." She remembers when Chico Mendes was called anti-progress and anti-development for daring to question the effects of development, corporations and resource extraction on the Amazon and the environment.

Leaders Gather From Around the World

Grassroots and indigenous leaders from around the world were in the crowd: Godfrey Massah from Tanzania; Aunty Joan Hendricks from Australia; Edwin Cisco from Liberia; Norman Jiwan from Indonesia; Chief Liz Logan from First Nations (Canada); Cristian Otzin and Ernesto Tzi from Guatemala; Christhian Prado Andrade and Franco Viteri from Ecuador; Tek Vannara from Cambodia; and Hiparidi Top'tiro, Tailey Terena, Raimundo Mendes de Barros, and Gomercindo Rodriguea from Brazil.

These grassroots and indigenous tribe leaders were meeting because they had one thing in common: their interest in protecting indigenous rights and defending the environment, the land and their livelihoods from governments and multinational corporations. Their stories, albeit with many different details and context, sound eerily similar: governments teaming up with multinational corporations, backed by pressure from Western entities, to grab land, deforest and damage the environment in the name of supposed development, investment and innovation.

In Tanzania, orchestrated by government officials pressured by the European Union, biofuel companies are grabbing land from indigenous small-scale farmers and pastoralists, often without their consent or prior knowledge. Godfrey Massah, a program officer at the Land Rights Research and Resources Institute, told the story of Bioshape Holdings and Sun Biofuels. Bioshape holdings acquired 54,000 hectares of land that was originally forest. Before that acquisition, four villages were using and living on the land. The Dutch investors bought the land for $670,000, cut down 10 million trees, and sold the timber for $6.7 million. Afterward, they left, claiming that their company went bankrupt. The result was a food and water shortage in the area. Because the investor had cut down all the trees, villagers were not in a position to use the land, even after they left, and were deprived of access to the land, water and forest - causing many to go hungry.

Eleven villages were living on and using the land when Sun Biofuels acquired 8,000 hectares in Tanzania. When the land was acquired, 700 villagers lost their jobs and livelihoods. Since the acquisition was advertised as an opportunity that would bring jobs, development and food security, many villagers who used the land expected to get employment from the investment. Instead, the chemical-intensive agriculture plan failed - and in addition to losing their livelihoods, villagers lost their access to land they grew food on and to potable water, and the chemicals brought about health complications for those living around the area. Many large-scale agriculture projects that result in land grabs are advertised as innovative strategies that will bring employment and necessary development to the surrounding areas; however, a GRAIN study this year found that "small farms are twice as productive as large farms and more environmentally sustainable."

Chief Liz Logan, who lives on Treaty 8 land in British Columbia, calls the land, "our grocery store, our pharmacy, our church and our school."

As Godfrey says, "There's no way you can talk about land grabs without mentioning World Bank and European Union pressures." A majority of the time, the EU and World Bank are the ones pressuring governments like Tanzania's to give the land to foreign investors. The EU's implementation of harmful policies that promote biofuels as environmentally friendly and sustainable result in dangerous practices on the ground in Tanzania. And because of their position in the world economy, Godfrey asserts, countries like Tanzania "are always at the losing end of negotiations" - mainly because of their "lack of financial capacity."

Of course, Tanzania is not just an exception in the World Bank's complicity with land grabs. In Indonesia, only after a global campaign headed by Indonesian environmental activists, did the World Bank agree to stop funding palm oil industries . . . but only for the next two years. However, this agreement excludes sugar cane plantations, mineral oil and gas concessions - and the majority of the forests that belong to indigenous people are being threatened with mineral oil mining.

Chief Liz Logan, who lives on Treaty 8 land in British Columbia, calls the land, "our grocery store, our pharmacy, our church and our school." She discussed the third dam Canada is currently trying to build on the Peace River, which runs through multiple reservations. In the 1960s, when the WAC-Bennet hydroelectric Dam was built on the Peace River, the results included flooded communities, homes and graveyards in the reservations and methyl mercury found in the fish her community eats. Dams can greatly affect the survival of marine and river life - so much so that the river may not be able to support river life at all - with grave consequences for people who depend on a river's fish for food. Her community is now fighting the third dam, which has already gone through an environmental review and is being built to liquify natural gas on the west coast. But first, they'll have to get through the indigenous tribes using the land; Chief Liz Logan says, "Some elders who have been pacifists in the past are now saying it's time to fight, [and] when elders say that, it's serious."

At one point, John Knox's keynote speech was interrupted which a shout of, "Where is the list of the attackers?" by a member of the audience as Knox narrated environmental struggles around the world. "The CEOs of corporations, the government officials, the policemen. I'm peaceful, but a mother has a right to protect her den, and right now our den is getting attacked."

On the last day of the conference, a workshop, called "Protection For Defenders," was held. In Brazil, people with interests in capitalizing the land's resources hire and pay gunmen and private security to shoot and kill environmental activists and "crack down" on indigenous communities.

"When news comes out, it is depicted as one group in conflict with another," said Gomercindo Rodrigues, a human rights attorney in Brazil, "but usually these things are massacres." He gave an example in Mato Grosso, where indigenous peoples were assassinated by ranchers who hired private security that were "armed to the teeth. It was not a confrontation, like they say. It was a massacre."

Fight to Reclaim Land Escalates

Over the past couple of years, indigenous peoples have been escalating a fight to re-claim their land, seizing it from the estate owners. In 2012, when hundreds of indigenous peoples seized their land (that was formally recognized as indigenous land in 2009), gunmen came down on the camp, shooting and kidnapping their leader, Nisio Gomes. In 2013, when indigenous peoples took control of their land once again, federal police and the military moved in and used flash bombs and rubber bullets which resulted in the killing of one indigenous person (along with four injured).

During the workshop, Brazilian organizers discussed how they can't depend on the state to protect them. After all, Chico was with two police officers when he was shot and killed by a hired sniper. A rubber tapper from Brazil described how he and his community have to take protection into their own hands. He described how he switches up his path at night to avoid people who may be following him. There have been five assassination attempts on his life. The "biggest struggle is not government or the state machinery, it's quite bigger," said Godfrey Massah. "It's a struggle where you don't see your enemy. You don't touch him, but he's there; he's coming and he's hunting you."

Since 1988, the year Chico was murdered, over a thousand land activists have been murdered in Brazil, alone. A Global Witness investigation found that there has been a major surge in deaths tied to environmental activism within the past decade, worldwide. In 2012, environmental activists' deaths around the world tripled, compared to 10 years before. In the past 10 years, over 900 environmental activists were killed around the world. As Franco Viteri, the president of the governing organization of the Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, said: "I want to say Chico Mendes' fight is being waged everywhere. There are many Chico Mendeses in Asia, Africa and the Americas."


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Activists Skeptical About APP’s Pledge to Investigate Its Human Rights Record

By webadmin on 10:20 pm September 18, 2011.
Category Archive

Daniel Pye

Asia Pulp and Paper has announced it has commissioned an independent audit of its practices in Indonesia following a UN call for businesses around the world to protect human rights.

But activists said they were skeptical given the company’s record of environmental destruction, links to human rights abuses and the limited scope of the audit.

APP hired international accountancy firm Mazars to conduct the audit in the wake of the UN Human Rights Council’s publication in June of the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, a set of guidelines about how companies should act with regards to human rights.

“[Holding companies accountable] could be the next big thing in human rights,” said Marzuki Darusman, director of the Asean Human Rights Resource Center, who will be part of the team carrying out the audit.

“But the audit could be compromised if at any time there is a conflict of interest between Mazars and APP. It does not ensure that there will be no human rights abuses in the future.”

The audit would not be based solely on the UN principles, but James Kallman, president of Mazars Indonesia, said the firm would implement rigorous methods of assessment.

“We will be basing our study on more than 100 indicators including work environment, forced labor, gender equality, community and environmental impact and conflict resolution. We expect to be allowed full access to carry out our audit independently,” he said. “Companies today need to realize that to be sustainable they need to consider factors other than how much money they make.”

But Marzuki said that while they would look into alleged cases of abuse by APP, they were limited to the remit laid out in an APP policy statement provided to them and would not be able to investigate cases documented by third parties.

“This is not the first time APP has commissioned audits by companies claiming to be independent and they eventually always produce positive assessments [of APP], which we think is far from the reality on the ground,” said Hariansyah Usman, head of Walhi Riau, a local environmental NGO.

The company is frequently cited in international and local NGOs’ reports that claim it is involved in numerous cases of abuse and environmental destruction.

A 2003 Human Rights Watch report called “Without Remedy” included evidence of attacks on Malay and Sakai communities in Riau in Sumatra, the hub of Indonesia’s pulp and paper industry. It alleged that an APP sister company, Arara Abadi, sent armed security, or Pam Swakarsa, overseen by Indonesian security forces, to violently intimidate villagers protesting against government-sanctioned land grabs.

The company has always denied the allegations and has recently pledged to abide by a two-year government ban on deforestation.

But Hariasnyah said that Walhi Riau had evidence that APP has continued to clear protected forest outside of its already large concessions.

Norman Jiwan, head of Sawit (Palm Oil) Watch, said the moratorium was ineffective as it was not applied retrospectively, and APP would continue to do “business as usual.”

“APP must go beyond the law, and implement best practices without compromising the human rights of local communities and indigenous peoples,” he said.

At the time of going to print, APP had not responded to interview requests.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Palm Oil Companies Could Not Care Less About Human Rights, Report Finds

November 8th, 2013, 20:12 GMT · By Laura Sinpetru

Ordinary folks have long suspected that many palm oil companies do no give a rodent's dorsal side about human rights. Still, it took a report pieced together by several NGOs to make it official.

The 417-page report, titled “Conflict or Consent,” focused on the working agenda and policies of a total of 16 palm oil plantation operations currently underway in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Liberia, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It says that many of the companies behind these palm oil plantations often fail to seek consent from local communities before starting to clear forests. More often than not, this translates into conflicts with these communities.

Given the fact that, by not asking these people whether or not they can operate on their land, the companies are basically failing to stand by their social and environmental commitments, it is no wonder that conflicts ensue.

Monbagay details that, according to rules and regulations set in place by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, companies are required to at least have a chat with local communities before setting up plantations on their land.

“Since its founding eight years ago, the RSPO has adopted good standards, but too many member companies are not delivering on these paper promises. The organization’s very credibility is at stake,” explains Norman Jiwan, with human rights organization Transformasi Untuk Keadilan Indonesia.

“So much effort has been invested in the RSPO and the International Finance Corporation’s dispute resolution mechanisms, but to little avail.”

“We can point to one or two good results on the ground, but there are thousands of land conflicts with oil palm companies in Indonesia alone, and the problem is now spreading to other parts of Asia and Africa. We are calling for an urgent and vastly expanded response to this crisis,” adds study contributor Jefri Saragih.

In light of these findings, the NGOs urge that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil does not settle for merely asking palm oil companies to take human rights into consideration when rolling out new development projects, but also see to it that the companies actually do what has been asked of them.

“Sanctioning mechanisms thus need to be clarified and enhanced to secure the credibility of the RSPO itself,” stresses Sophie Chao with human rights group Forest Peoples Programme.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Demand for Palm Oil Fuels Land Conflicts in Africa, Southeast Asia

Kim Lewis
Last updated on: November 14, 2013 9:53 AM

As the world’s demand for palm oil increases, deforestation and the resulting release of carbon dioxide emissions continue to be a concern. However, The Forest Peoples Programme, a human rights advocacy organization dedicated to securing the rights of people who live in forests, recently released a report that said the growing global demand for palm oil that is fueling the large-scale expansion of palm oil plantations across the forests of Southeast Asia and Africa, is also a human rights issue.

Palm oil has become a lucrative business, said Norman Jiwan, executive director of, Transformation for Justice Indonesia – TuK INDONESIA, and, co-editor of the report that was released at a press conference in Medan, Indonesia. He explained that the crop produces a higher yield of edible oil compared to other edible crops, including soy and grape seed.

He also explained that the huge demand for palm oil in the world marketplace has fueled expansive land clearances, and most of this is done illegally, without the consent of the local land owners.

“This mass expansions of palm oil industry in Indonesia has created serious land conflict because of the land grabbing, land clearing without consent from local communities and indigenous peoples. And the likelihood of local communities and indigenous peoples’ right to food is being threatened because of the massive expansions of the palm oil industry,” said Jiwan.

A United Nations mandate created in 2001 called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, was designed to bring deforestation under control. In addition it established clear guidelines for the ethical and ecological production of palm oil that member companies, which represent about 40-percent of the global palm trade, would adhere to.

“It’s really good to have standards on paper, but the question from our human rights perspective is, ‘To what extent these standards are implemented—and properly address the issues of rights of local communities and indigenous peoples?’” said Jiwan.

Major expansion of the palm oil industry is also taking place in Africa. The countries involved so far are, Liberia and Cameroon. There are also plans for production in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast.

Dr. Marcus Colchester is senior policy advisor for the Forest Peoples Programme.

“Unfortunately, what we are seeing is the same kind of problems as we have already identified in Southeast Asia. That’s to say the governments are handing out permits to these areas without first talking to communities, without firstly making sure their rights are recognized and secured. And so, the conflicts are brewing up in these different countries as the companies come in and take over the land and forests of these indigenous peoples, and other local communities,” explained Colchester.

On the bright side, the senior policy advisor highlighted that member companies of the RSPO have responded to two complaints filed in Liberia with the help of the Forest Peoples Programme. The companies have agreed to slow down production and - in some areas - to stop production until the land disputes are settled.

“That process is underway, and so it does show to us that there is a value to this procedure --that the RSPO have called a new planting procedure, whereby companies planning to plant, should first announce their plans and then there’s an opportunity for communities or NGO’s to raise concerns. This should allow problems to be solved in advance of the expansion of the frontier,” said Colchester.

He acknowledged the legal process is a slow process, but still a good sign that progress is being made in taking human rights into consideration along with the environmental concerns.

“What we find through our studies is, the national legal framework is also at fault, because the governments and the law don’t recognize the land rights of the people. Therefore the companies are coming in; the conflicts are proliferating. So, we’re also calling on the government to reform their national laws to recognize rights,” commented Colchester.

The publication, “Conflict or Consent? The Oil Palm Sector at a Crossroads,” not only documents human rights violations, but hopes to bring added attention to the need for world leaders to include human rights violations in their plans of addressing deforestation and land degradation.

About Me

Born 8th May 1977, Mabah village of Dayak Kerambai tribe, West Kalimantan, Borneo island. He was trained at pedagogy and education faculty on English teaching at Tanjungpura University, Pontianak, West Kalimantan. Holding certificates on environmental leadership program, research, journalist, fire prevention, teaching, human rights & indigenous peoples in the international system, sustainable forest management, and sustainable palm oil. Co-author published domestic and international books. Experience speaker and resource person in seminars, conferences, workshops, and symposium both regional and international fora including in Brazil, Cambodia, Finland, France, Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Philippines, United States, and Vietnam. Active member of Executive Board of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil represents Sawit Watch (2008-2012). Currently he lives in Bogor. Volunteer and activist works with WALHI Kalbar (2002-2004) and Sawit Watch (2004-2012). June 2013-2016, Executive Director of TuK INDONESIA. Consultant for Forest Peoples Programme (2013), MFP-III (2015), and ELSAM (2017).


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