Indonesian pulp and paper giant Toba Pulp Lestari has been operating recklessly in North Sumatra for years. The company's mill has been poisoning communities and disrupting life and livelihoods for the local people who call this area home. The mill, and it’s operators, are responsible for horrific land conflicts between the company and villagers who hold traditional land rights to the company’s concessions.
These communities, whose land is protected by customary rights under Indonesian law, rely on these forests for their life and livelihoods. As reported by RAN’s on-the-ground partner, Kelompok Studi dan Pengembangan Prakarsa Masyarakat, well over 17,000 hectares of natural forest have been destroyed, impacting or displacing over 13,000 Indigenous people.
These communities are fighting back, and at least 59 activists have been arrested for resisting Toba Pulp Lestari’s continued expansion and destruction. In the past few years, land conflict has only escalated between villagers and Toba Pulp Lestari employees over the forest area. Meetings with government representatives and Toba Pulp Lestari management have brought no results, and local villagers have resorted to protests and blockades of company operations in order to protect the forests.
The behavior of Toba Pulp Lestari employees shows clear disregard for the livelihoods of local people. In February 2013, local farmers from Pandumaan and Sipituhuta Villages caught Toba Pulp Lestari employees entering their forest areas and cutting down frankincense trees. Instead of apprehending those causing the destruction, resulting clashes between farmers and the employees led to the arrests of 31 farmers.
The harvest of frankincense is essential to the local economy. These communities, who have farmed this land for generations, extract the frankincense without destroying the trees in order to maintain the health of the forest and keep this vital source of income intact for future generations. When the forests are wiped out for pulp plantations, Toba Pulp Lestari destroys not only the livelihoods of the community, their childrens’ livelihoods, and the ecosystem, but it destroys their culture as well.
Local communities have opposed the mill since it began operations in North Sumatra in 1989 due to the rainforest destruction, land grabbing and toxics pollution central to the company’s business model. In 1990, 10 elderly women from Sugapa Village were arrested for pulling up and destroying eucalyptus plantings on their traditional land. Protests by the local community escalated in 1998 and temporarily shut down the mill. But in recent years, the company has changed its name from PT Inti Indorayon Utama to PT Toba Pulp Lestari and reopened the mill; it is now in the process of expanding its destructive operations further into pristine rainforest. Along with name changes, the company has changed affiliations multiple times in order to hide its destruction. The company was formerly affiliated with pulp and paper giant, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) and its parent Royal Golden Eagle (RGE), and is still controlled by notorious Indonesian business tycoon Sukanto Tanoto through holding companies.
This may seem like a conflict far away from those of us in the Americas, Europe, or Australia, but it’s closer than one would think. A wide variety of consumer products contain pulp from rainforests like those in North Sumatra, including paper, food, cosmetics, household goods—even clothing. This pulp, and the conflict that produced it, is sold on store shelves in your neighborhood - unmarked and unidentifiable.
Unless Toba Pulp Lestari respects the rights of the Indigenous people, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), conflicts will only continue. And while Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has acknowledged the customary forest rights of the communities, Toba Pulp Lestari’s concessions and operations continue to undermine the ability of local people to access and manage their own forests.
We plan to keep you up to date on this conflict and bring more information continue to explore and expose the pulp supply chains threatening global rainforests.... stay tuned.
In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.
This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.
Our journey in Alberta began in Fort McMurray, a boomtown where the international oil industry has set up a base of operations from which to conduct tar sands extraction. The scale of the industry anchored in Fort McMurray is difficult to overstate: the town sits on one of the world’s largest oil deposits, the Athabasca tar sands. The extraction of Alberta’s tar sands constitutes the world’s biggest industrial project, and massive mining operations directly abut Fort McMurray.
We landed at the brand new Fort McMurray international airport, where workers were putting the finishing touches on the terminal’s décor, as if the place had been quickly constructed in anticipation of our arrival. Immediately, signs of the tar sands-driven boom were apparent; gift shops featured oil sands tee shirts and advertisements announced new direct international flights to Las Vegas, enabling well-paid oil workers to quickly spend their paychecks on gambling and entertainment.
More than 80% of Canada’s tar sand workers are male, and Fort McMurray was full of bulky guys. On the plane, I overheard a pair of oil workers talking about how they had gained over 100 pounds while living in company-provided housing at a tar sands refinery, a by-product of boredom and sedentary machine-operation. As if to justify the weight gain, the workers then turned their conversation to the “couple of houses” each had bought with their tar sands earnings.
Many of Fort McMurray’s workers seemed focused on buying real estate with oil profits; the town was awash in oil industry publications that combined breathless accounts of lucrative tar sands expansion, advertisements for mining companies, and tips on homeownership and real estate. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, capital investments in the Canadian tar sands have jumped more than 400% since 2006, stretching the municipality’s resources and skyrocketing population and property values in Fort McMurray. Expansion, growth, money, and oil are the watchwords of the day.
On the edge of town we visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, a shrine to the technological process of extracting and refining the tar sands. Sponsored by the Albertan government with heavy support from industry, the Discovery Centre was most remarkable for what it was not included in its displays. As in Fort McMurray and the tar sands industry more broadly, the Oil Sands Discovery Centre lacked any acknowledgement of the climate impacts stemming from the tar sands. It was as if the oil industry town existed in an alternative reality where climate change did not exist and endless expansion of tar sands mining was completely unopposed by the global community. This was a step beyond climate denialism; it was an outright refusal to even recognize that the concept of climate change exists.
In place of the gaping hole where climate concerns should have been, the Oil Sand Discovery Centre touted Fort McMurray’s incredibly ironic ban on single-use plastic bags, and offered an appeasing video insinuating that oil industry reclamation efforts are akin to the millennia of sacred land stewardship practiced by Indigenous First Nations groups. While we immediately smelled a rat in the oil industries claims of reclamation, it wasn’t until we joined the Athabasca Chipeywan and Mikisew Cree First Nations that the abject hideousness of industry claims came into focus.
When we left the world of Fort McMurray’s oil settlers and joined First Nation host communities at the Tars Sands Healing walk, what we heard and saw laid bare the poisonous horror that lurks beneath the sheen of Alberta’s lucrative tar sands boom and industry’s expansionist dreams.
Part Two, "Indigenous Nightmares", will be posted next week.
1. Visitors at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.
2. Oil industry magazines predict growth for Fort McMurray and tar sands mining.
3. Fort McMurray is dwarfed by nearby tar sands mines.
4. An ironic sign at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre.
//www.youtube.com/embed/J7yt54MQleEClearWater began with a big goal: provide safe, sustainable access to clean water for every Indigenous family in the region, whose ancestral waterways have been poisoned by oil production and ensuing industrialization. In just two years, ClearWater has installed more than 500 family-sized rainwater harvesting and filtration systems that serve thousands of people in communities that have long suffered an epidemic of cancer, birth defects, and other illnesses that numerous health studies in the region blame on a lack of access to safe sources of water for drinking, bathing, and cooking. Our efforts have been able to make this impact because, from the beginning, ClearWater has been a collaborative partnership between the five indigenous nationalities here—the Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa, and Waorani—and international supporters, such as water engineers, humanitarians, activists, and philanthropists. ClearWater believes in collaborative, integrative, community-led solutions, where someone like Emergildo is coordinating amongst the different Indigenous nationalities to install new water systems, local youth are using GPS to map their biological and cultural resources, and frontline leaders are learning new media techniques to broadcast their concerns to the world. Clean water, health, and dignity. From this foundation, Emergildo and the Indigenous people of Ecuador's northern Amazon are building a movement for rainforest protection and cultural survival. I’m proud that Rainforest Action Network is a founding partner in this project, and I hope you’ll join us, too. Explore ClearWater's impact by navigating around this cutting-edge interactive map designed by another Amazon Watch family member, Gregor MacLennan, now Digital Democracy's Program Director. Learn more about ClearWater on our website or find us on Facebook and Twitter.
|Han Shan is an Amazon Watch Advisory Board Member.|
Today, food and beverage giant PepsiCo declared that it will no longer accept land grabbing in its global supply chains. Land grabbing occurs when Indigenous Peoples or local communities are kicked off their land so corporations can make profits from growing palm oil, sugar, and other crops.
This announcement comes after significant consumer pressure from Oxfam's Behind the Brand Campaign and PepsiCo investors who called on the company to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for land grabbing.
The adoption of its new Land Policy is a positive step forward for PepsiCo, but we know all too well that actions are stronger than words. PepsiCo must take real action to deal with its land grabbing problem. Given that land grabbing is also a symptom of PepsiCo's deforestation and Conflict Palm Oil problems, it must now make the next bold move and implement a responsible palm oil sourcing and no deforestation policy.
PepsiCo is a huge company, operating in over 200 countries and earning $65.6 billion in revenue each year. Its well known brands, including Pepsi, Doritos, Ruffles, Cheetos and Quaker, are found in homes around the world. RAN has exposed the dangers of Conflict Palm Oil and the fact that it ends up in chips, cookies and granola bars made by PepsiCo. PepsiCo sources its palm oil from companies like Cargill, Wilmar and AAK in Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico.
Despite the growing concern over Conflict Palm Oil, PepsiCo has not adopted a responsible palm oil policy to remove deforestation and social conflict from its global supply chain. Instead of taking responsibility for its supply chain, the company relies solely on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO continues to certify companies that are destroying rainforests and peatlands and causing high greenhouse gas emissions. It also has a poor track record of enforcing its human and labor rights standards, and resolving disputes between certified companies and local communities over land grabbing.
PepsiCo cannot rely on the RSPO.
To address these problems fully, PepsiCo must join other leading consumer companies and adopt responsible palm oil sourcing and no deforestation policies and cut Conflict Palm Oil from its products.
You can help pressure PepsiCo to tackle its deforestation and Conflict Palm Oil problems next.
On May 7th, PepsiCo will need to face up to its shareholders who will be casting their vote on a deforestation resolution at its annual general meeting. With your help, we’ll convince PepsiCo to do the right thing for the forests and the people that depend on them for their survival. Add your voice here.
Banner photo via C.J. Chanco Inset photo via Oxfam
We have great news—your actions are delivering REAL victories for rainforests. After nearly a year of negotiations, Mars has announced that it will only source palm oil from companies that are not destroying rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands or causing human rights abuses!
Even better, Mars has set a deadline that its suppliers must meet to keep its business. The company is demanding that its suppliers, like Cargill, adopt the same strong commitments and only supply it with responsible palm oil. If Cargill fails to fall in line, it will be dropped as a supplier. This is what driving transformation in a supply chain truly means.
This would not have happened without all of the wonderful RAN activists who have taken action. Your letters to Mars on Valentine’s Day, phone calls, posts, tweets and, for some, your visit with Strawberry the orangutan to Mars headquarters made this possible. We exposed Conflict Palm Oil in Mars' supply chain and today the family-run company has taken the first step to deal with its Conflict Palm Oil problem. Now it's time for Mars to move beyond words with a thorough and rapid implementation plan for removing Conflict Palm Oil from its products.
Getting Mars on board is another step forward for Indonesia and Malaysia’s rainforests and the people and wildlife that call them home. The brands we’re taking on are huge, but it’s you and your friends that have the real power. It’s because of you that we have power in the negotiation room and are winning!
In the face of growing criticism over their use of Conflict Palm Oil, a number of the Snack Food 20 companies have taken action. Mars, Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg and Mondelez are all delivering the same message to their suppliers, like Cargill. The writing is on the wall: Cargill needs to get in line with other traders like Wilmar International and Golden Agri Resources (GAR) who have set new benchmarks for responsible palm oil production and trade or risk losing some of its most important customers.
We’re winning—now there's one more thing to do to help turn this commitment into real action. Post this message on Mars' Facebook wall: Hey Mars, thanks for stepping up to protect rainforests and people from Conflict Palm Oil. We need Mars to put its words into action with a thorough and rapid implementation plan for removing Conflict Palm Oil from its products. The power is #InYourPalm. We’re on a roll and we have big plans that we’ll share with you very, very soon.
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