Oxfam calls on palm oil company to redress violations of communities’ rights in Indonesia

“If Sime Darby doesn’t budge, it should feel the consequences. The affected farmers have that right”
Farah Karimi
General Director of Oxfam Novib (Netherlands)
Published: 14 October 2011

Oxfam is demanding that the Malaysian multinational, Sime Darby, quickly rights wrongs at its palm tree plantation in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

In its report Land and Power published last month, Oxfam revealed a long-standing dispute on a palm oil plantation owned by Sime Darby, which dates from before Sime Darby purchased the plantation. Despite promises since 2007, Sime Darby has yet to take action to redress the situation.

Unless Sime Darby produces a concrete action plan to resolve the issue by 23 October, Oxfam will make a formal complaint to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) of which Sime Darby is a member. The RSPO is a global partnership of producers, traders and brand producers who use palm oil in their products. Members of the RSPO have pledged to make palm oil production sustainable by following global standards for its production and purchasing. Oxfam is a member of the RSPO to ensure that the interests of local people, small farmers and laborers, are addressed in the production of palm oil.

Last week a complaint was lodged at the RSPO against Sime Darby by the international campaigning group, Forest Peoples Programme, together with Liberian organizations. In Liberia Sime Darby is also accused of the illegal confiscation of land from local farmers, in violation of RSPO procedures.

Farah Karimi, general director of Oxfam Novib (Netherlands) said: “It is unacceptable for palm oil companies like Sime Darby to ignore the rights and needs of local people. Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil are united in their recognition that something has to change in the palm oil sector. Now is the time for action.”

Oxfam has been an active member of the RSPO for seven years and helped create the complaints procedure that allows communities to complain directly about abuses. The procedure is important because many of the local authorities and legal systems in countries involved in palm oil production do not uphold communities’ rights in land disputes.

“We joined the RSPO because there was no other option for the communities to claim their rights. All RSPO members have committed to sustainable operations. It’s now time to call to account the members who violate this commitment. There is a complaints procedure and a sanctions mechanism. If Sime Darby doesn’t budge, it should feel the consequences. The affected farmers have that right,” said Karimi.

Sime Darby has stated that its aim is to resolve the case as soon as possible. Oxfam will continue to monitor Sime Darby critically, together with other members of RSPO, including an Indonesian organization, Sawit Watch, which directly supports the people in West Kalimantan.

Notes to Editors

  1. In the mid-1990s a current subsidiary of Sime Darbystarted oil palm plantations in the Sanggau district in West Kalimintan. Twenty four communities lost great parts of their lands. The main underlying issues in the conflict are:
    • Appropriation of land based on false information. Communities were told they would lease the land to the company for a palm tree life circle (25 years) and signed letters that they thought were leases on their lands. But the letters enabled the company to have the status of the land changed, something the communities were not aware of.
    • Unfulfilled promises. In return the company promised to build facilities, such as roads, schools, houses and clinics. Only some of those facilities have been built.
    • The land schemes. Of the 7.5 hectares that each family surrendered they were promised to get 2 hectares back, planted with palm oil. However in practice and for several reasons most families got less which is not enough to live from.
    Sime Darby claims that national legislation was complied with at that time.
  2. The international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is a joint effort by a multitude of stakeholders involved in the palm oil industry including producers, processors, manufacturers, retailers, investors and environmental and development NGOs. The RSPO represents 50% of global production, and an estimated 15% of the market. It promotes the production and use of sustainable palm oil through market self-regulation, transparency and multi-stakeholder dialogue.
  3. On 22 September, Oxfam launched a major new report, Land and Power highlighting the growing pace of land deals brokered around the world, with as many as 227 million hectares sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001. Some of the deals are in fact ‘land grabs’ where the rights and needs of the people living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without enough land to grow enough food to eat and make a living.
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