By Gemma Tillack

For 20 years, the Indigenous Long Teran Kenan communities in Sarawak, Malaysia have fought for the customary rights to their lands. They have watched as their crops, forests, and water quality have been destroyed for large-scale plantation development. Community leaders have never given up, staging peaceful protests, legal actions and appeals to government, certification schemes and industry actors alike to respect their customary rights to their land.

In 2006, palm oil giant IOI Group acquired plantations that had been developed without the consent of the Long Teran Kenan communities. IOI is a major palm oil grower and processor that supplies major brands including those in the Snack Food 20. A decade later, the fight to ensure that IOI respects the customary rights of the communities to their lands, respects their right to choose their own representatives in mediation efforts to resolve the conflict, and only acquires their lands subject to their free, prior and informed consent continues.

On March 8th, 2017, a coalition of global NGOs including Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, and Forest Peoples Program put on the record shared concerns about the continuing unresolved land dispute between IOI and the community of Long Teran Kanan and surrounding villages along the Tinjar in Sarawak that are being affected by the operations of IOI’s majority owned subsidiary IOI-Pelita. The letter calls on IOI Group to:

  1. Take responsibility for upholding the community’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, as expressed in the RSPO Principles & Criteria.
  2. Ensure that the community is able to make decisions through an informed process and take responsibility for ensuring they are provided with information on the settlement offer in ways that allows them to understand it. IOI should support NGO’s efforts to enlist credible experts to help the community organise themselves and interpret the implications of the offer.
  3. Identify the community members who have been affected and are due compensation for the initial loss of land and the ongoing use of their land for oil palm plantations.
  4. Work with the community to identify and draw up maps for each landowner’s area(s), and jointly approach the Sarawak state government to request those areas are excised from their plantation to provide better security for the community’s land rights.

This call to action follows decisions made in November 2016 by a number of IOI’s customers, such as Unilever, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez and palm oil giant Cargill, to drop the company for once again violating the RSPO standard and their newly adopted No Deforestation, No Peatland and No Exploitation policies.

The conflict between IOI Group and the Long Teran Kenan community is one of the longest standing and most controversial cases confronting the palm oil industry. In March 2011, the RSPO palm oil certification scheme, which provides IOI with so-called ‘sustainable palm oil’ certification, first ruled that IOI had breached its requirements and begun efforts to find a mediated solution. After one false start, the negotiation process which ensued failed to uphold the RSPO standard. Years passed and the RSPO continued to permit the company to sell certified palm oil grown on stolen lands. There is no doubt that recent demands from its customers to clean up its act resulted in IOI attempting to once again resolve this conflict. Disappointingly, IOI’s latest attempts have failed in part due to a decision to not allow communities to independently choose how they are to be represented in any negotiations over the use of their lands.

Time will tell if IOI will accept that the communities have the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the operations of the company on their land, if it will take steps to agree on compensation for past losses, and if it will approach the Sarawak state government with a request to excise lands from their plantation to secure customary land rights. It is critical that we stand in solidarity with the communities of Long Teran Kenan whilst they fight for their land rights to be recognized by IOI and the Sarawak state government.

Join us as we demand that the Snack Food 20 cut their ties to bad actors that put corporate profits ahead of respecting the rights of local communities.