Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), is in trouble after the Complaints Panel of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) upheld Forest Peoples Programme’s complaint that the company’s operations in Indonesian Borneo contravene the RSPO standard. The Panel ruled in May 2015 that GAR could not clear or acquire any further land until the complaint was resolved. The company planned to expand 18 of its already massive oil plantations but pulled back after FPP filed its complaint.
The main substance of Forest Peoples Programme’s complaint is that GAR has been acquiring land without communities’ free, prior and informed consent in contravention of the RSPO standard (i.e. through ‘land grabbing’). Promised smallholdings have not been provided. High Conservation Value assessments have been poor and tardy. RSPO’s New Plantings Procedure (NPP) was breached. In addition, we noted that many GAR operations seem to lack full legal licences and the company has exceeded the ceiling for land holdings. In response, GAR did halt all land clearing as from 3rd November 2014, it also withdrew its new planting procedure notifications and agreed not to undertake any further land clearance until re-submitting new valid NPP. The company has also excluded (most of) the lands of the communities that have refused oil palm from its final permit area, which gives these communities the chance of now securing title to their lands.
GAR has also accepted that it was not in full compliance and after two further meetings between FPP and senior GAR executives, agreed an Action Plan aimed at bringing its operations into compliance. This includes measures to: improve HCV assessments; ensure smallholders get the lands they expected and; provide remedy to those from whom it took land without due process, in its subsidiary PT Kartika Prima Cipta. FPP has emphasised that compliance is achieved by carrying out these promised actions on the ground in liaison with the communities. There remain four issues on which agreement is not yet reached.
- The company should renegotiate with affected communities for all lands taken without consent in all the 18 concessions subject to the complaint
- The company should make remedy for all lands cleared without New Plantings Procedure notifications between 1st January 2010 and 3rd November 2014.
- The legality of GAR operations where the company holds a business license (IUP) but not yet a permit for the land (HGU)
- The company exceeds the law which sets a ceiling on the total land area a groups of companies can hold (100,000 ha per company or group of companies).
GAR is far from the only company in Indonesia that violates these norms, so it is vitally important that the RSPO Complaints Panel addresses these issues in an effective manner, otherwise it will undermine its own credibility.