Golden Agri's wings clipped by RSPO in West Kalimantan

Golden Agri's wings clipped by RSPO in West Kalimantan

By Philip Jacobson /

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has prohibited Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), one of its most prominent members, from "acquiring or developing any new areas" pending the resolution of a formal complaint against the palm oil giant in Indonesia's West Kalimantan province.

The decision by the RSPO, the world's largest voluntary certification scheme for palm oil, is a stern directive from an organization that has been criticized for failing to take action against companies that flout its standards.

UK-based NGO Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) lodged the complaint last year after GAR filed to expand its plantations in 18 of its subsidiaries in Kalimantan despite evidence that one of them, Kartika Prima Cipta, had taken community land without their informed consent, failed to properly conduct a high-conservation value (HCV) assessment and more. The RSPO upheld the grievance in March.

Because Kartika Prima is piloting GAR's high-profile zero-deforestation commitment, the FPP has reason to believe that the other subsidiaries are also not in compliance, Marcus Colchester, senior policy advisor of the FPP, told Mongabay.

"We hope this decision will now persuade [GAR] that it has to renegotiate with communities where it has taken over their lands without their informed consent," Colchester said in a statement after the RSPO's announcement on Wednesday. "We are greatly encouraged that the RSPO is upholding its standard. We need to eliminate all land-grabbing from the RSPO-endorsed supply chain."

The FPP's involvement in the case began in mid-2013 when the nonprofit approached the company with an offer to conduct an independent, self-funded review of Kartika Prima's operation. That review turned up a host of transgressions about which the FPP carried on a dialogue with GAR until mid-2014, when, to the FPP's chagrin, GAR filed for the expansions under the RSPO's New Planting Procedure (NPP).

In response, the FPP filed a detailed complaint, and GAR subsequently agreed to withdraw the 18 NPP submissions and halt all land clearing in the concessions from November 3 last year. Because Kartika Prima is a pilot project, the FPP has reason to believe the violations were systemic across all of the concessions, Colchester said.

This week, the RSPO called Kartika Prima's HCV assessment "inadequate and potentially misleading."

It ordered GAR to "take remedial steps to correct any shortcomings in its land acquisition process with the affected communities" and "honor its commitment to allocate 20 percent of the land for the smallholders as it has promised to do."

Those directives were in line with the FPP's review, which found that "local people felt that their lands had been taken by deception and based on false promises," according to FPP documents, and that GAR had "fraudulently submitted information about [Kartika Prima]," Colchester said.

Also an issue is whether GAR cleared land in the not-yet-greenlighted concessions between January 1, 2010, the date the New Planting Procedure took effect, and November last year.

In its letter this week, the RSPO instructed GAR to "declare all land that has been cleared and/or planted since 1st January 2010 and 3rd of November 2014, without NPP notification to the RSPO."

The FPP, Colchester said, does not have the skill capacity to comprehensively look into what land clearance has occurred. "It may be in the tens of thousands [of hectares], it may be in the hundreds of thousands," he said. "All that land will have been cleared without due attention to process."

It is unclear what the consequences will be if GAR is found to have cleared land in violation of the New Planting Procedure, although it might be ordered to pay some form of compensation.

The RSPO gave GAR until May 20 to respond.

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