Even as millions of people across SE Asia are suffocating under smoke pollution billowing from the out of control wildfires surrounding Indonesia’s palm oil plantations, all too often the stories that make it into the news about Conflict Palm Oil leave out the voices of the people who live and work on the front lines of palm oil expansion. The human voices in the struggle against Conflict Palm Oil are vast because the violations against Indonesian workers and communities range from child and forced labor on plantations to land-grabbing and gross violations of Indigenous land rights.
RAN’s forest team recently returned from an unprecedented partners meeting in Sumatra where we met with our closest allies from across Indonesia and Malaysia and engaged in four days of deep listening, strategizing and skill sharing. Nearly 20 organizations sent representatives, including leading organizers working on land grabbing, plantation labor issues, Indigenous and farmers rights advocacy, orangutan conservation, women and migrant worker rights, government policy, corporate accountability and rainforest protection.
These endlessly inspiring activists represent many of the different communities, demographics and ecosystems that are threatened by Conflict Palm Oil and they have come together to call on all of us to stand with them to secure their rights to their land, livelihoods, fair working conditions and the protection of the forest ecosystems they depend upon. RAN is committed to standing in solidarity with these frontline leaders by listening and learning from their lived expertise and following their leadership in the strategic development of our campaigns. Will you join us in standing with Indonesia?
“Saving Indonesia’s forests isn’t just something that should be done by Indonesian people. We, the people of Indonesia, hope that every person in this world, including the people in the United States, gather with us, the people of Indonesia to protect forest from palm oil plantations, pulp and paper plantations, to protect this world. If Indonesia’s forests are destroyed, we will experience serious problems in the future.” David Rajagukguk from KSPPM (Kelompok Studi dan Pengembangan Prakarsa Masyarakat).
As we continue to #ChallengePepsi to do the right thing and include full protections for Indonesia’s forests, communities and workers in its palm oil policy, we would like to introduce you to a few of the frontline activists who are leading the charge on the ground in Indonesia to resist the expansion of Conflict Palm Oil:
Sandhi is a program coordinator and labor organizer with OPPUK, a leading labor organization advocating for fair conditions for palm oil plantation workers based in North Sumatra, Indonesia.
“I am working with OPPUK, which focuses on labor rights issues on oil palm plantations and what we are going to achieve in our work is to improve the laborers lives and work conditions on the plantations. I am originally from Jakarta. As an Indonesian it is very shocking to me because I never heard the kind of life, the life is very different on the oil palm plantation. I used to work in disaster relief but I found that the laborers on the plantation face more oppression and they have no escape. For me personally, I want to bring out the issue, I want to inform the Indonesians, the public, what is going on on the plantations because Indonesians think it is good to work on the plantations, but the reality is very different. Please stand with us to protect our lives, forests and animals!”
Ratri is a campaigner at the watchdog organization Sawit Watch, (sawit means palm oil in Indonesian) which works to inform people of the impact of large scale oil palm plantations on Indigenous people, local communities, laborers.
“Our main job is to distribute information and let people know the negative impacts of large scale plantations. I choose to work in this field and to work closely with communities as well as run the campaign because I’ve seen first hand what people have gone through due to the oil palm plantations in their home towns and their forest which were converted to oil palm plantations and I’ve seen how that affected them. I’ve seen people lose their lands, I’ve seen them lose their livelihoods. Because I’ve seen all those, I think its important to strengthen them as well as to help them to raise awareness for people who don’t know the situation.
Last year I came to the PepsiCo AGM…but since then I haven’t seen any changes on the ground [in Indonesia], so that is why we need PepsiCo to include Indonesia in its palm oil commitment.”
Rudi works with, Walhi-Jambi (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), an environmental organization that uses advocacy and campaigning to protect the environment and surrounding ecosystems.
“My name is Rudiansyah, I work at WALHI-Jambi. Conflicts that occur are related to the lack of access that people have to their natural resources to the point that communities are squeezed in their attempts to access their natural resources. This is why Walhi-Jambi, as an environmental and social NGO, works to support the communities of Jambi.
Because of the actions taken by extractive industries, specifically pulp and paper and palm oil, many disasters have occurred. These are disasters that are beyond the scope of disasters that occur naturally. One of the things that has happened is that companies have burned the forest. This is what makes us worried, that what is happening in the field, will result in the loss of the population from the outskirts of the forest. In addition, the health of the community is also lost.
From Walhi’s calculations, over 2000 people have been affected by respiratory illness, and we have recently received information from the hospital that one child, age 10, recently passed away because of loss of breath. Come, let’s save Indonesia’s forests!”
The palm oil crisis in Indonesia may be a world away from the U.S., but we are connected through the air we breathe and the multinational companies that are based here but drive so much of the destruction happening there. PepsiCo’s palm oil policy has a loophole the size of Indonesia because the company stubbornly refuses to include the products it sells across Indonesia—the world’s 4th most populous country and the largest producer of palm oil globally—in any of its responsible palm oil commitments. This means the displacement of Indigenous communities, the exploitation of laborers, and the practices of child and forced labor are not explicitly banned under PepsiCo’s policy.