Earlier this month, two meetings took place, both focussing on oil palm plantations. The first was a meeting of communities and civil society and took place in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. The second was the 11th meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
The meeting in Calabar produced a declaration opposing “land and forest grabbing for monocultures and other projects including REDD”. The declaration is posted in full below.
Before the RSPO meeting in Medan, Forest Peoples Programme, Sawit Watch and TUK Indonesia put out a report titled “Conflict or Consent? The oil palm sector at a crossroads”. The report includes 16 case studies from seven countries in Asia and Africa carried out by a consortium of NGOs. On its website, Forest Peoples Programme explains that,
“In line with international law, the RSPO’s Principles and Criteria require member companies to respect the collective right of indigenous peoples and other local communities to give or withhold their consent prior to the development of oil palm on the lands they own, inhabit and use.”
The report asks the question, are companies meeting their promises? Forest Peoples Programme comments that,
The studies reveal that the RSPO process has in some cases led to improved understanding, by communities and companies, of how to achieve ‘sustainable development’. In addition, procedural improvements can be pointed to that may provide a basis for resolving some land conflicts. Overall, however, many oil palm companies are not respecting customary land rights, are acquiring lands without consent, are violating or avoiding compliance with national laws or court rulings and are in obvious violation of the RSPO standard.
Another report produced before the RSPO meeting looked at labour rights in three RSPO certified oil palm plantations in Indonesia. “Empty Assurances”, was written by the International Labor Rights Forum and Sawit Watch. In a statement about the report, the International Labor Rights Forum writes,
Palm Oil is harvested on plantations mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia by workers who remain hidden from the public eye. Many of them are children who work in unsafe conditions for far below the minimum wage. Others have been deceived by labor brokers into being caught in debt-bondage like situations, and are trapped in remote areas with no ability to pay for a passage home.
[ . . . ]
Unfortunately, we found flagrant disregard for human rights at some of the very plantations the RSPO certifies as “sustainable.” … Not only does serious exploitation exist in palm oil supply chains: the industry’s ethical certification has proven to be no guarantee against abuse.
During the RSPO meeting in Medan, thousands of workers marched and surrounded the RSPO meeting. Community representatives also joined the protests. Rainforest Action Network explains some of the issues that workers were protesting about:
[P]alm oil laborers are forced to pay for their own basic tools and safety equipment (e.g. shoes, boots, masks, gloves) or to simply go without. Women, who are often positioned as pesticide sprayers, have only pieces of cloth to cover their face to protect them from toxic chemicals. Fresh water for workers to drink and bathe is also often unavailable, leaving them to rely on contaminated water. Hours are harsh, with workers required to be in their positions before dawn or face sanctions or punishments.
Here are RAN’s photographs from the protests:
We, members of communities affected by industrial monoculture oil palm plantations, including peasant movements, as well as other civil society organizations from Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia, and signatories to this declaration, met from 2–5 November 2013 in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria,
- Shared testimonies and analyses related to the living conditions of rural communities affected by industrial oil palm monocultures;
- Shared experiences on monoculture oil palm and other types of monocultures implemented in all countries present at the meeting;
- Analyzed the consequences of the rapid and brutal expansion of monocultures promoted by multinational companies in different communities and countries;
Analyzed the strategies and mechanisms for land grabbing and the invasion of multinational companies into different communities;
Having found that:
- Where multinational companies have engaged in implementing large-scale monocultures, they have left misery and poverty;
- Governments, on all continents, provide support to these companies, and many among them profit from the misery of their compatriots;
- Thousands of hectares of forest are destroyed every day to the benefit of monocultures, including oil palm;
- Communities are dispossessed of their land to the benefit of multinational corporations or speculative investors who manipulate governments, the police, or the entire judicial system of the countries they enter;
- Hundreds of people are imprisoned or killed every year for demanding their right to land, livelihoods and survival; and their lands, once transformed into monocultures, are militarized;
- Peasants are forced to work in slave conditions on their own land and buy food that once they produced;
- Voluntary initiatives and certification schemes such as RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) are inadequate to provide lasting solutions for the problems they claim to resolve;
- Conventions and legislation guaranteeing community rights are often violated by the different states in the slashing and grabbing of communities’ land;
- Monoculture tree plantations are not forests;
- Communities are not objects that can be moved or manipulated at will;
- Communities have the right to dignity and to raise their voice;
- The RSPO is not a mechanism to halt the massive expansion of monoculture oil palm plantations and the ever-increasing demand for palm oil to meet excessive consumption, including for agrofuels. Also REDD is not a mechanism to solve the impacts of climate change.
- Our support for all communities repressed by the policies of the powerful and to those who defend their land rights as indigenous peoples and peasant communities;
- Our commitment to demand that the governments of our countries ratify and respect the declarations and relevant international laws that protect the rights of communities and indigenous peoples;
- Our opposition to land and forest grabbing for monocultures and other projects including REDD;
- Our appeal to our governments to halt and control the expansion of large-scale monocultures, and to support community-based, including traditional, economic activities;
- Our determination to fight for food sovereignty and food security of communities;
- Our commitment to build alternative and appropriate solutions that go beyond mechanisms like RSPO and REDD;
- Our commitment to save the environment instead of having it transformed into hell on earth;
- Our commitment to be the voice of the voiceless wherever their voice needs to be heard;
- Our commitment to use all non-violent means necessary so that community rights are respected.
Adopted in Calabar, 5 November 2013
African Dignitiy Foundation- Nigeria
Boki Rainforest Conservation & Human Development Concern – Nigeria
Climate Cool Nigeria
Community Forest Watch Nigeria
ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria
GREENCODE – Nigeria
JVE – Ivory Coast
Green Scenery-Sierra Leone
COPACO – DRC and La Via Campesina Africa
Green Development Advocates – Cameroon
Struggle to Economize Future Environment-SEFE – Cameroon
PHOTO Credit: “An Amazing Thing Happened at the RSPO”, Rainforest Action Network, 19 November 2013.