24 February 2017

Opinion: New judgment against palm oil company can have positive consequences for local communities

This news is redirected by The Secretariat for Development Cooperation at SCIENCE from Danwatch.

This news has been translated by the Secretariat for Development Cooperation of Science and therefore might differ from the original article in Danish.

Wilmar International Ltd., the world's greatest palm oil production company, has by the RSPO been found guilty of having violated Indonesian legislation and thus RSPO's standards. Senior Researcher Ida Theilade and Assistant Professor Aske Skovmand Bosselman from Department of Food and Resource Economics say that the judgment might result in positive consequences for other local communities.

For years the local community of Kapa in West-Sumatra in Indonesia has fought for the right to their land which they think was unlawfully acquired by the palm oil company Wilmar.

Now a court of justice under RSPO (Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil), which is the industry's own certifying body working for promoting responsibly produced palm oil, has ruled in favour of the local community and convicted the palm oil company Wilmar for illegally having acquired their land and thus violating RSPO's standards.

The Kapa community considers the judgment a victory

Gapa Alam, the leader of the Kapa local community, declares in a press statement that he hopes the ruling can make Wilmar give them back their land rights.

"We have fought for more than a decade after we lost our land to Wilmar to get out rights recognized. We hope that Wilmar International will acknowledge the verdict from RSPO and then quickly re-establish our right to the land which they took without our consent."

The ruling can get major global influence

The ruling is one of the first times the ruling is in favour of the local community with the RSPO. Ida Theilade, senior researcher at Department of Food and Resource Economics at University of Copenhagen, says about the ruling to Danwatch: "It is an interesting development and one of the first times that indigenous people are successfull in a complaint and repeated appeals that their rights should be respected. At the same time it is an example that certification and standards can have a positive effects and contribute to regulating the globalisation. Multinational companies get access to new markets but they are forced to live up to international standards for environment and rights."

However, she underlines that more must be done: "At the same time it must be emphasized that this is only the very beginning. In thousands of cases like this the indigenous people have been trampled under foot and protests have been oppressed with state-authorised threats, intimidation and criminalization of the local communities and their leaders. The ruling from RSPO can give hope to the thousands of local communities and indigenous peoples in the same situation."

Wilmar's reaction to the ruling is crucial

Aske Skovmand Bosselman, assistant professor at University of Copenhagen in Section for Production, Markets and Policy, agrees with the assessment of Ida Theilade: "It is a good case showing good use of RSPO, if Wilmar changes it. The problem is that it is not only the standard they have violated. It is also the laws of Indonesia. This shows that RSPO in some connections can be stronger that the law. One can hope that RSPO with this case shows that the companies have to comply with their standard to continue," he says to Danwatch.

In the next months an impartial expert together with the Kapa community and local authorities map the oil palm plantations. After this the RSPO verdict says that it must be made possible for the parties concerned to change the land contracts. Aske Skovmand Bosselman thinks that the next months will be crucial: "It will be interesting to see whether the RSPO has enough power to make Wilmar match the verdict coming."

It is not the first time that Wilmar has come under the spotlight for human rights violations. A report from Amnesty International recently shoed that forced labour and child labour is a problem in Wilmars palm oil plantations in Indonesia.

The original article from Danwatch is no longer available.