Companies in Indonesia have been allegedly clearing designated 'High Conservation Value (HCV) areas', rather than managing them appropriately in order to maintain or enhance the identified values of the area. HCV areas include areas important for communities' livelihoods, identities and environmental services.
The Indonesian government originally distributed permits to companies who, as members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), have signed up to respect HCV areas and accordingly not to clear them for plantations. Identifying HCV areas has been a lengthy process and in some cases companies have exceeded the period of their interim permits before they are issued with a final lease. Consequently, government officials have terminated permits and re-allocated substantial areas to other companies, including those who are not RSPO members and who have not agreed to protect identified HCV areas.
RSPO member companies themselves have also voluntarily relinquished HCV areas to the government in order to avoid burdensome taxation and to make it easier for them to comply with RSPO regulations, since they reduce the size of the areas they need to protect.
An independent investigation team went into the field to research the situation and compiled a report confirming that the RSPO procedure is not succeeding in securing HCVs in the way envisaged because of the ill-fit between the RSPO approach and the laws and procedures in place in Indonesia. HCV areas once identified are not being protected but are being re-allocated to other companies. This is in opposition to the aim of the RSPO procedure, which is to deflect palm oil expansion from valuable areas.
A crucial obstacle to protecting HCV areas is that Indonesian law makes no explicit provision to protect HCVs. The report does identify, however, laws and regulations that could potentially be used to strengthen HCV protection.
The report makes a number of recommendations including amending laws and regulations, changing the way existing procedures are applied, providing additional information to local authorities so they apply their discretionary powers more judiciously and improving the guidance given to operators in the RSPO Standard, the National Interpretation for Indonesia and the Indonesian HCV Tool Kit. Finally it is recommended that a working group is formed by the RSPO to address these issues as a matter of urgency.
The report concludes that 'widespread, effective and equitable compliance with the RSPO standard depends on good governance, transparency, accountability, rule of law and access to justice. If land allocations are made in ways contrary to these principles, there are bound to be serious obstacles to the RSPO approach - not just with respect to High Conservation Values.'
Based on the findings of the report the RSPO Executive Board has decided to open a dialogue with the Indonesian government to explore these recommendations.