London, 6th November 2016: On the 12th October, and just days before the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) complaints panel was supposed to issue a final judgment on the complaint filed against them by the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya, Plantaciones de Pucallpa (PdP) withdrew from the RSPO.
In its letter to the RSPO the company which is one of at least 25 companies operating as part of the Melka commercial group in Peru, claim “PdP has divested all its palm oil estates, land, related activities and equipment and PdP has no involvement in the Palm oil industry…and withdraws and terminates its membership with the RSPO with immediate effect”
The Complaint was filed by the community in conjunction with FECONAU, IDL and FPP (the Complainants) in December 2015 showing that the company had acted illegally by clearing more than 5000 hectares of forest to establish their plantations in lands traditionally owned by the Shipibo indigenous community. The Complaint highlighted that this was in violation of Peruvian and applicable international laws to respect the traditional lands of indigenous peoples and their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent as well to enforce restrictions against unauthorized deforestation . This meant that it was in violation of numerous Principles and Criteria of the RSPO. Furthermore, the company had never given public notification of its plans to clear forests, as required by the Roundtable on Palm Oil’s ‘New Planting Procedure’.
The RSPO secretariat informed the Complainants of this latest development explaining that the complaint process would now be closed and a final report issued. Complainants, however, have maintained that this is unacceptable and in a letter to the Complaints Panel have insisted that it: “…must publish its final resolution on this case. This is the first case of its kind in Peru and effectively a test case. Plantaciones de Pucallpa’s withdrawal is an act of contempt of the RSPO and this position risks being endorsed if the RSPO cannot pronounce on the substance of the case thereby undermining the credibility of the RSPO and its accountability mechanism.”
Carlos Soria, president of the community responded: “We are deeply frustrated by the very long delays that RSPO’s Complaints Panel has taken to rule on these very obvious violations of our rights. Our land has been stolen and our forests and rivers destroyed all perpetrated in the name of sustainable palm oil and now there is no justice.”
Robert Guimaraes, President of FECONAU, the indigenous federation representing Santa Clara stated: “this is just another sign of impunity of these palm oil companies and the toothlessness of both the RSPO and the Peruvian government. It seems that this company can do what it likes. It was ordered by the government and the RSPO to suspend its operations and yet nothing has changed. This is only one of numerous similar cases in Peru and exposes the gaping holes in the country’s ability to govern its forests and enforce its own laws to protect indigenous peoples’ lands and prevent unauthorized deforestation. Given there are no effective controls against palm oil expansion in Peru’s forests, the pledges of the government and its international backers to reduce net deforestation to zero by 2020 risk being empty promises. Our communities will continue to struggle for our lands and rights over our ancestral forests even if the Peruvian government and the RSPO are unable or unwilling to do so.”
Juan Carlos Ruiz Molleda of the Institute of Legal Defense (IDL) stated that: “We had great hope for the first RSPO complaint in Peru, but we are now deeply frustrated. What kind of accountability mechanism is this that a company can pick and choose when a complaint is dropped. If the RSPO fails to make a statement about this it just effectively endorses the bad faith approach of this company. All this undermines and weakens the credibility of the RSPO which is only just beginning to be implemented in Peru. This establishes a dangerous precedent which will undermine the credibility of the RSPO trademark and no doubt this lack of confidence in palm oil certification will spread across Latin America”.
Over the course of the complaint which is documented in RSPO’s case tracker Plantaciones de Pucallpa repeatedly tried to argue that indigenous communities in Peru do not have any land rights outside of formal land titles, that they had cleared no forests and that all their activities had been authorized by the Peruvian government. These false claims, and their denials of, and failure to conduct effective due diligence on community land rights which resulted in violations of their rights were systematically exposed by further submissions by the Complainants. These included high resolution satellite evidence which showed incontrovertibly that over 5000 ha of forests had been cleared since Plantaciones de Pucallpa assumed ownership . When this did not work the company engaged in personal and defamatory attacks on the complainants and tried to overwhelm and confuse the Complaints Panel with irrelevant and spurious documentation.
Tom Griffiths of the Forest peoples Programme commented that “Resigning from RSPO membership at this conspicuous moment is effectively an admission of guilt by Plantaciones de Pucallpa. The company’s violations of RSPO rules have been clearly proven by the Complainants. It appears that once they realized that they couldn’t maintain these fictions the company have decided to withdraw from the RSPO and transfer their assets to a related company in order to evade sanctions. This is common practice by companies like those belonging to the Melka group and comes as no surprise to FPP. However, the credibility of the RSPO is now on the line. People are asking: are RSPO companies truly accountable? What is the genuine value of this industry standard if members can just pull out whenever they fear the complaints panel will rule against them? If the RSPO does not take some concerted action in light of a company’s very transparent effort to avoid being held to account, it risks rendering itself irrelevant."
Notes for editors
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a not-for-profit association composed of stakeholders from seven sectors of the palm oil industry - oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation NGOs and social or developmental NGOs - to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil. It was formed in 2004 in response to the urgent and pressing global call for sustainably produced palm oil. Producers of palm oil who are members must comply with its Principles, criteria and procedures and can subsequently secure certification of their product. There is a complaints panel that processes complaints presented by those affected by the actions of its members. The complaint mechanism is an essential element of a conflict resolution system and framework for accountability which the RSPO requires in order to ensure trust in its trademark. For more information see http://www.forestpeoples.org/topics/responsible-finance/private-sector/… http://www.rspo.org/about
The complaint and the subsequent evidence submitted included incontrovertible evidence that PdP had violated numerous RSPO’s procedures and principles including amongst others: The failure to respect the customary land rights of Santa Clara (2.2, 2.3, 6.3, 7.5) and its rights to FPIC (2.2, 2.3, 6.3, 7.5), the failure to conduct an EIA (5.1,7.1) or secure any of the required government authorizations (2.1), the failure to conduct participatory mapping or any adequate due diligence (2.2, 2.3, 7.5) and the failure to observe the principle of no clearance of primary forest (7.1).
Plantaciones de Pucallpa was ordered by the Peruvian government in September 2015 to suspend all its operations. Further government investigations in May 2016 highlighted a failure to comply with this order and they did not even allow access to environmental prosecutors triggering fines of over $150,000.
In April 2015 the RSPO issued a stop work order to Plantaciones de Pucallpa based on the complaint filed by Santa Clara de Uchunya.
In 2010 Peru adopted a pledge to secure net zero deforestation by 2020 which has now been backed by international donors including a $300 million accord with the governments of Norway and Germany. Current estimates of deforestation however have been rising rapidly. In 2015 annual rates of deforestation in Peru’s Amazon rose rapidly to over 170,000ha.