Growing global demand for palm oil is fuelling the large-scale expansion of oil palm plantations across Southeast Asia and Africa. Concerns about the environmental and social impacts of the conversion of vast tracts of land to monocrop plantations led in 2004 to the establishment of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which encourages oil palm expansion in ways that do not destroy high conservation values or cause social conflict. Numerous international agencies have also called for reforms of national frameworks to secure communities’ rights and to develop sound land governance.
The subject of this request is the extreme harm caused to indigenous Papuans by the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate project (the MIFEE project), a State-initiated, agro-industrial mega-project implemented by a variety of corporate entities that, to-date, encompasses around 2.5 million hectares of traditional indigenous lands in Merauke. The affected indigenous peoples have already lost a considerable area of their lands due to acquisition by these companies and conversion to plantations of one kind or another. The irreparable harm they have already experienced continues to expand and intensify as more companies commence operations.
In 2011, the World Bank Group (WBG) adopted a Framework and Strategy for investment in the palm oil sector. The new approach was adopted on the instructions of former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, after a damning audit by International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) semi-independent Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO) had shown that IFC staff were financing the palm oil giant, Wilmar, without due diligence and contrary to the IFC’s Performance Standards. Wilmar is the world’s largest palm oil trader, supplying no less than 45% of globally traded palm oil. The audit, carried out in response to a series of detailed complaints from Forest Peoples Programme and partners, vindicated many of our concerns that Wilmar was expanding its operations in Indonesia in violation of legal requirements, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards and IFC norms and procedures. Almost immediately after the audit was triggered, IFC divested itself of its numerous other palm oil investments in Southeast Asia.
Globally oil palm plantations continue to expand at a rapid rate. World leader, Indonesia, has raced past Malaysia to become the number one producer. Latest data from the Indonesian watchdog NGO, SawitWatch, suggests that oil palm plantations in Indonesia now cover 11 million hectares, up from 6 million hectares only five years ago. New plantings are spreading to the smaller islands of the archipelago and to the less developed areas of eastern Indonesia. Hopes that a Presidential promise of a 2 year moratorium on forest clearance would slow the crop’s expansion – part of a deal to reduce green house gas emissions - have also evaporated as the government has excepted areas where preliminary permits have already been handed out.
This report summarises the findings of a field investigation and legal study which shows how voluntary efforts by companies to set aside areas for community livelihoods and for conservation are being frustrated by the ill-fit between the RSPO's procedures - using the 'High Conservation Values' approach - and national laws and procedures. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is to meet in Kuala Lumpur from 1-4 November 2009.
- Formal NGO letter of complaint to the IFC Compliance Advisor Ombudsman about breaches of policy with regard to the oil palm industry in Indonesia
Oil palm plantations are expanding to meet escalating demand for edible oils and new markets for biofuels - of which Indonesia plans to secure a large share. But the widespread forest clearasnce to cater for this expansion has major implications for rural Indonesians, affecting settlements, ecosystems, trade activities and government agencies. This research documents the issues affecting local communities and their recommendations for national reforms to safegurad their rights under international law.