As the 9thAnnual Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) meeting wrapped up on the island of Borneo, the crisis stemming from the uncontrolled expansion of palm oil plantations into rainforests and communities reached a fever pitch.
Consider this: In the few days that RAN’s four staff-member delegation attended the RSPO meeting in SE Asia, the Forest People’s Programme (FPP) released a comprehensive and scathing report that documents Cargill supplier and palm oil giant Wilmar’s complicity in the bulldozing of homes and the use of live ammunition to forcibly evict Indigenous community members on the island of Sumatra.
In a press conference on the human rights impacts of palm oil held during the RSPO meeting, Rukaiyah Rofiq, who goes by Uki and works with the human rights advocacy group Yayasan Setara Jambi, warned that companies producing palm oil under the RSPO umbrella are failing to resolve the social conflict caused by plantation expansion. In a November 24 article in the print version of the Borneo Post titled “RSPO Emboldens Violators of Indigenous Rights – NGO,” Uki said:
Ideally, we had hoped that with the RSPO, these conflicts would be stopped or at least reduced, and the rights of the communities be restored. But we’re not seeing any impact with the RSPO. This is evident in the ninth meeting we’ve had with the RSPO. There has not been any change; the conflicts have not decreased. The presence of RSPO has not reduced or resolved the conflicts.
Uki is referring to the more than 600 cases of social conflict related to palm oil in Indonesia documented by Sawit Watch. In the same press conference, Jefri Gideon of Sawit Watch said: “There is a big hope among everyone that the RSPO can help resolve these conflicts.” He urged RSPO members to go beyond talking about the RSPO principles and criteria and code of conduct and actually implement them.
During the same week, the Jakarta Globe published two articles, “Indonesian Palm Oil Dispute at ‘Crisis Point’” and “Paradise Lost at Hands of Palm Oil Companies“, about a separate conflict surrounding the village of Muara Tae on the island of Borneo.
Muara Tae is in a stand-off with a palm oil firm whose forest clearing threatens the villagers’ entire way of life. Community member Petrus Asuy issued an impassioned plea, saying, “Because of the palm oil plantations, our water has become polluted and many of our springs have dried up. We took our case to the local government, but they ignored us. We are completely against these companies because they have compromised our way of life. What hope is there now for our grandchildren? We are pleading for help for our situation and for this activity to stop.”
It has become abundantly clear that wherever massive international commodity corporations are granted huge forest concessions and allowed free reign to manage them, community conflict and environmental devastation quickly follow.
It is more imperative than ever that companies like Cargill and Wilmar immediately address the serious problems of human rights abuses and rainforest destruction in their supply chains and become a part of the solution to this crisis instead of indiscriminately trafficking palm oil into North American and European markets. Please take a moment to ask Cargill CEO Greg Page to adopt safeguards to keep controversial palm oil out of American food products.