An open letter to Procter & Gamble's CEO from Indigenous leaders in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

By Fitri Arianti

Indigenous peoples in North Sumatra are facing threats to their identities, livelihoods and safety as corporations destroy the rainforests that their communities have relied on for generations. In this open letter, leaders from the Pargamanan-Bintang Maria community ask Procter & Gamble’s CEO Jon Moeller to stop sourcing from Royal Golden Eagle — a supplier with ties to land grabs and deforestation in their ancestral territory.


Dear Mr. Jon R. Moeller,

CEO of Procter & Gamble,

We are members of the Indigenous Batak community of Pargamanan-Bintang Maria in Parlilitan, Humbang Hasundutan District, North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Our Indigenous territory span 1,763 hectares. Benzoin trees, native to our land, grows on our customary forest and is the source of our livelihood all these year. Our customary forest is also rich in biodiversity that we have nurtured and protected for generations.

Sadly, in 2007, our Indigenous territory and living space was disrupted by the presence of pulp and paper company PT. Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL). TPL is affiliated with Raja Garuda Mas or Royal Golden Eagle (RGE), owned by Sukanto Tanoto.

TPL destroyed about 200 hectares of our customary forests and replaced it with eucalyptus monoculture plantation. An area of 731 hectares of our customary forest sits within TPL’s concession, which means if we don’t stop it, we will lose all our our customary forest. Because of that, since 2007 we have been fighting against TPL on our Indigenous land. The company’s presence have brought negative impacts on our lives, including:

  1. The threat to our identity. Because land is identity for Indigenous Batak Toba people. When we lose our land, we lose our identity.
  2. The continuous decline in our primary source of livelihood from the benzoin tree due to forest destruction. From our local wisdom, we know that the benzoin trees can only thrive and produce resin when it grows alongside natural forests. Now our benzoin is surrounded by a monoculture of eucalyptus trees.
  3. The loss of our right to a healthy and sustainable environment as TPL’s forest destruction has disrupted upstream rivers that are sources of clean water and irrigation. Our rice fields can no longer produce enough grain to sustain our food needs for the year because the water sources have been disrupted. Our local food system is now destroyed.
  4. The contamination of our rivers with chemical pesticides used by TPL on their eucalyptus plantation.
  5. The threat to our economic resilience as animals from the forest like monkeys, boars, deers, bears and others destroy our food crops like corn and other horticultural crops. We, as farmers, are losing our economic resilience as our sources of income are depleted.
  6. The risk of criminalization and intimidation from the company. Our fight against the destruction of our customary forest is seen as criminal and at any time we can be reported to the police.
  7. The destruction of cultural and social relations in our village through sowing divisions among Indigenous communities by forming and funding farmer groups to accept the company on our Indigenous land.

The destruction of our customary forest and the violation of our human rights will continue to be felt and will worsen if TPL continues to operate on our Indigenous land. We have tried many ways to defend our Indigenous territory and customary forest but we yet to succeed.

We know that P&G is one of many companies that buy from RGE. We sincerely ask the Executives of P&G and its shareholders to stop buying from RGE. If you continue to buy their products, you are taking part in destroying the forests on our Indigenous lands and violating the rights of the Indigenous Tano Batak people.

We are not the only Indigenous community that has been harmed by TPL. There are dozens of Indigenous communities that are in conflict with TPL right now. Therefore we ask you to stop buying from TPL.

Horas (regards)

Indigenous Community Leaders of Pargamanan-Bintang Maria

Rajes Sitanggang, Chief

Eva Junita Lumbangaol, Treasurer