International NGOs have condemned an announcement by the Malaysian palm oil giant IOI Group (IOI) that it intends to sell its stake in a controversial palm oil plantation that has been at the center of a longstanding conflict with communities in Sarawak, Malaysia.
The IOI-Pelita plantation includes land taken from the Long Teran Kanan communities without their consent. The communities have been seeking compensation, the recognition of their rights and return of customary lands for over a decade. Two weeks ago, IOI finally agreed to participate in a meaningful mediation process with communities. However, a decision to sell makes further mediation meaningless as IOI will no longer have control over the plantation or the ability to resolve the conflict by meeting the needs of affected communities.
IOI is one of the major traders of palm oil into North America, Asia and Europe. It supplies palm oil to major brands, including Unilever, Hershey’s and Mondelēz.
“IOI has recently tried to convince the market that it’s earnestly reforming its problematic past. With this announcement, IOI is not only turning its back on communities, it casts doubt on its intentions to fulfill any and all of its commitments to sustainability,” says Gemma Tillack, Forest Policy Director for Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
“This latest move by IOI is a final effort to avoid its responsibility to remedy long-standing injustices against the Long Teran Kanan longhouse communities. A failure to deliver remedy for land rights violations will be a major breach of its palm oil policy and obligations as a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO),” says Patrick Anderson for Forest Peoples Programme.
“This announcement is an act of bad faith. It has been made at the end of a six-month negotiation progress that aimed to finalize an agreed action plan between IOI and the communities who had submitted a RSPO complaint in 2010. This was a critical implementation milestone set by Grassroots, Rainforest Action Network, Forest Peoples Programme and Greenpeace, which will remain unfulfilled if IOI sells the concession,” says Andrew Ng, spokesperson and co-complaint from Grassroots. “IOI will condemn the communities of Long Teran Kanan A and B, Long Tabing Atas and Bawah, Long Tuyut, Long Teran Batu and Long Jegan to losing all their lands, culture and livelihood.”
“If IOI sells its stake in IOI-Pelita it would be the final straw, proving once and for all that IOI cannot be trusted. If this sale goes through, then major brands would have no choice but to stop buying from IOI altogether. The RSPO would also have to expel IOI for such a gross violation of its rules,” said Bagus Kusuma, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
NGOs are calling on the company to make a formal statement that it will cancel plans to sell its share in the concession and move forward with efforts to establish a mutually agreed mediation process and resolve this social conflict and associated RSPO complaint once and for all.