Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the Palm Oil Sector - Sarawak: IOI-Pelita and the community of Long Teran Kanan
Pre-Publication Text for Public Release September 2012
The State of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo is now one of last frontier areas for palm oil expansion left in Malaysia. With most available lands in the Peninsula already planted and most of Sabah already leased out, in Sarawak expansion is accelerating and is estimated to be taking place at some 90,000 hectares (ha) per year. The State already has over 920,000 ha and the Minister for Land Development has plans to double this area to 2 million ha by 2020. About half of this expansion is taking place on lowland peat soils and the rest in the once-forested interior where most land is the ancestral lands of the indigenous Dayak communities. As previous studies have shown there are numerous land disputes between Dayak and oil palm companies throughout the State, and many of these disputes have been taken to court. Although the courts have repeatedly ruled in favour of the Dayak and found that the Sarawak Government’s limited interpretation of ‘native customary rights’ is faulty, yet the State persists in handing out concessions in further violation of communities’ customary rights.
This case study looks in some detail at oil palm concessions granted in 1996 to a local joint venture company Rinwood-Pelita on the middle Tinjar river in northern Sarawak which overlaps the customary lands of communities of the Berawan, Kayan and Kenyah peoples. The local enterprise was acquired by the Malaysian transnational palm oil company, IOI, a prominent member of the RSPO, in 2006.
The case is especially important as it not only reveals the complexities of law relating to customary rights recognition in Sarawak but also exposes the problems with four parallel systems of dispute resolution that are at play, including: the company’s procedures; the national courts; the RSPO’s grievance procedure and; the RSPO’s Dispute Settlement Facility. Despite all these efforts, the dispute remains unresolved, 16 years later.