Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

Palm oil & RSPO

Palm Oil and Forest Peoples’ Rights

The rapid growth in palm oil production to feed global demands for edible oils and biofuels is causing serious social and environmental problems yet plantations are set to double their extent in the next 20 years. In close partnership with affected peoples and supportive non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) has been documenting these abuses and challenging the palm oil industry to stop grabbing people’s lands without their consent and resolve the huge number of existing land conflicts. 

With our partners, we have played a key role in ensuring that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), formed in 2004 in response to the urgent and pressing global call for sustainably produced palm oil, both adopts and upholds standards consistent with international human rights laws and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.  The 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. As part of a coalition with international and national NGOs and community based organisations in Africa and South East Asia, Forest Peoples Programme helps document abuses, promote dialogue with palm oil companies aimed at securing community lands, resolving existing conflicts and preventing further abuse, in line with international laws and agreed norms.

While the aim of the RSPO is to divert the expanding palm oil frontier away from primary forests and areas of high conservation value and to proscribe land-grabbing, Forest Peoples Programme and partners have focused their efforts on requiring member companies to respect the customary rights of local communities and indigenous peoples, including their right to give or withhold consent to palm oil operations planned on their lands (Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)). FPP and partners are also involved in the RSPO Smallholders Task Force, the RSPO Biodiversity and High Conservation Value Working Group, and the, yet to be activated, RSPO Human Rights Working Group.

In 2012, Forest Peoples Programme carried out a series of field studies in RSPO member/certified companies across Southeast Asia and Africa to provide detailed field information on how and whether the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent is being applied adequately by companies, to expose any malpractice of palm oil companies and to argue for a strengthening of national laws and policies and of the RSPO procedures and standards. Through field research, irregularities were documented and the information was made available to relevant parties in order to support redress. The studies are also being used as inputs to the RSPO’s ongoing review of its own standard in which FPP and partners are closely engaged.

Forest Peoples Programme and partners are also active in many other fora to reform the palm oil sector and halt the abuse of people’s rights, including through investors such as the World Bank Groups and private sector banks such as HSBC, the activation of human rights complaints procedures and efforts to reform regional standards and national laws so that they respect forest peoples’ rights.

Relevant resources

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Conflict Palm Oil in Practice

Rainforest Action Network

3 April, 2014

Conflict Palm Oil in Practice

EXPOSING KLK'S ROLE IN RAINFOREST DESTRUCTION, LAND GRABBING AND CHILD LABOR

Around the world rogue palm oil companies are destroying rainforests and violating the rights of Indigenous Peoples, rural communities and workers in order to produce Conflict Palm Oil, which is finding its way into hundreds of products lining American supermarket aisles.

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Indonesia: palm oil comany and army kill villager as land conflict escalates in PT AP in Jambi, Sumatra

8 March, 2014

In a further tragic escalation of the long running land conflict between palm oil developer PT Asiatic Persada and the local Batin Sembilan peoples, also referred to as Suku Anak Dalam, soldiers from the Indonesian army took a villager into custody in the company premises last week after which he was tortured and brutalised. When others protested, five of them were also rounded up, arrested and beaten up. Meanwhile other protesting villagers were chased away by the army repeatedly firing off their weapons.

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Live Panel Debate on the Social Impacts of Palm Oil with FPP and Sabah Environmental Protection Agency

24 February, 2014

You can watch Marcus Colchester, Senior Policy Advisor for FPP, in a recording of a live debate on the Social Impacts of Palm Oil in a Panel Debate hosted by Nadine Hawa of BetterPalmOilDebate with the head of the NGO Sabah Environmental Protection Agency and a Fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs. The debate highlights the problems in the sector, especially land grabbing.

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Palm oil company efforts to slow deforestation not sustainable

17 February, 2014

Community member in palm oil plantation

Palm oil companies have long been criticised for their damaging clearance, of both forests and peatlands, which contributes significantly to global warming. It is estimated that Indonesia, where deforestation is still increasing despite Presidential promises to halt it, is the world’s third highest emitter of green house gases. This is mainly due to large scale land clearance for palm oil plantations, pulp and paper ventures and transmigration.  Considering the ineffectiveness of Government efforts, getting companies to set aside forest and peatland areas within their concessions seems like a sensible way to limit the problem. But, given that most concessions are handed out by governments without first recognising and securing the lands of local communities,what are the implications of these set-asides for the rights and livelihoods of forest peoples?

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Joint NGO letter calling for IFC action to address damning findings of its own internal watchdog on failings to address land rights and social risks under IFC loan to the palm oil sector in Honduras (January 2014)

Various NGOs

20 January, 2014

The investigation is one of the most damning ever issued by the internal watchdog and concludes that the Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation:

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Indonesian palm oil developer’s efforts to conserve ‘forest carbon’ abuse community rights

17 January, 2014

PRESS INFORMATION - For immediate release

A new report, launched today, shows that efforts by one of Indonesia’s largest palm oil companies, PT SMART, to set aside forests as ‘carbon stores’ in the centre of Borneo are flawed. Indigenous peoples and local fisherfolk are objecting to the way these impositions curtail their land rights and restrict their livelihoods.

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Independent Review of the Social Impacts of Golden Agri Resources' Forest Conservation Policy in Kapuas Hulu District, West Kalimantan

Oleh Marcus Colchester (FPP), Norman Jiwan (TUK-Indonesia) dan Emilola Kleden (FPP)

16 January, 2014

Independent Review of the Social Impacts of Golden Agri Resources' Forest Conservation Policy in Kapuas Hulu District

Plantation companies seeking to avoid destroying forests and causing climate change have been advised to set aside forests and peatlands within their concessions. But what are the implications for forest peoples? Do they benefit or does this further curtail their rights?

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Son of Kebuaw

Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP)

15 January, 2014

Through the eyes of Sumen, an indigenous community strives to preserve their land and way of life in the rich rainforests of Sarawak. His will to stop a palm oil plantation is as strong as the currents of the mighty river Rajang.

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Film produced by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP): Son of Kebuaw

15 January, 2014

Footage from Son of Kebuaw

Through the eyes of Sumen, an indigenous community strives to preserve their land and way of life in the rich rainforests of Sarawak. His will to stop a palm oil plantation is as strong as the currents of the mighty river Rajang.

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