Palm oil conglomerate criticised for multiple violation of RSPO’s requirements that lands only be acquired from indigenous peoples and local communities with their free, prior and informed consent.
9 March 2015: In what may turn out to be an important step to curb land-grabbing by palm oil companies, the Complaints Panel of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) recently sent a letter to Golden Agri Resources noting that it has ‘reasonable grounds’ to find that the company has ‘breached the RSPO’s Principles and Criteria’.
Golden Agri Resources is the Singapore-based company which holds over a quarter of a million hectares of palm oil plantations in Indonesia operating under the brand name Sinar Mas, one of Indonesia’s largest conglomerates, whose operations include palm oil, banking, real estate and extractive industries.
The decision comes in response to a detailed complaint filed with the RSPO by Forest Peoples Programme in October 2014, which documented how the company's plans to expand its plantations in eighteen of its subsidiaries in Indonesian Borneo were in violation of the RSPO’s New Plantings Procedure and were based on assessments that were fraudulent and which ignored compliance failures by the company which had already been exposed by FPP and admitted by the company. FPP’s studies showed how GAR was in multiple violation of RSPO’s requirements that lands only be acquired from indigenous peoples and local communities with their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). GAR’s own submissions to the New Plantings Procedures also revealed that 16 of the 18 operations lacked legally required long term ‘business use permits’ (Hak Guna Usaha - HGU).
In response to the complaint, Golden Agri Resources announced in October 2014 that it was withdrawing its New Planting Procedure submissions and later confirmed that it had halted all land clearance in the 18 concessions, as from 3rd November 2014. It also embarked on a process of ‘risk assessment’ of its 18 operations and began to remedy some of the gaps in its land acquisition process and High Conservation Value assessments.
The recent decision by the RSPO finds that GAR’s operations breach RSPO standards through lack of required permits (HGU) and lack of adequate High Conservation Value assessments and because the company has 'not got the full consent of the communities on the concession to utilize their land for the purposes of oil palm development’.
A recent review of the performance of GAR’s subsidiary, PT Kartika Prima Cipta (KPC) in the Kapuas Hulu district in West Kalimantan, carried out by Forest Peoples Programme and LinkAR-Borneo in February, showed that, despite recent efforts to adhere to the RSPO standard, the operation still has a long way to go to bring itself into compliance.
Agus Sutomo, Director of the Pontianak-based NGO, LinkAR-Borneo said:
"Palm oil companies must respect communities’ rights to their lands and to accept or reject oil palm plantations. This decision by RSPO is welcome but we now need to see action by the company to remedy past abuses. Our field surveys show that the problems identified in KPC are also found in other Sinar Mas group concessions."
Noted Marcus Colchester, Senior Policy Advisor of the Forest Peoples Programme:
"This long awaited decision by the Complaints Panel may help restore NGO confidence in the RSPO after our previous reviews had shown that many of the largest companies in the RSPO, including those represented on its Board of Governors, were in violation of the RSPO standard. It may also reassure civil society that RSPO’s Complaints Panel does uphold the RSPO standard."