A spokesperson for Malaysian palm oil giant, Sime Darby, who labelled NGO critics as ‘toxic entities’ and called on the government to suppress them, has sparked fury among civil society groups all around the tropics. At a meeting held in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah (North Borneo) this week, indigenous peoples, and youth, environmental justice, labour and human rights organisations issued a joint Statement condemning such comments and demanding freedom of expression.
The meeting, which included NGO members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and was attended by groups from South and Central America, West and Central Africa and South East Asia had been organised ‘ to explore potential reforms in our countries and the industry internationally so that palm oil production brings genuine development and not exploitation, deforestation, land-grabbing and impoverishment’.
Companies that are members of the RSPO, which includes Sime Darby, are expected to uphold ‘multi-stakeholder’ decision-making, respect human rights and avoid deforestation and exploitation. Freedom of speech and the right to protest are cornerstones of democracy and so attempts by an RSPO member to muzzle indigenous peoples’ and civil society voices has brought a wave of condemnation.The meeting was supported by Bothends and the Forest Peoples Programme.