A Press Release Issued By the Forest Peoples Programme
Wilmar owns 27% shares in SIFCA, a company that operates Maryland Oil Palm Plantations and Cavalla Rubber Plantations in Pleebo-Sodoken District, Maryland County. Wilmar is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. As a member of the Roundtable, Wilmar is obligated to operate in accordance with the objectives of the Roundtable. One of the objectives of the Roundtable states that “plantations apply accepted best practices and that the basic rights and living conditions of millions of plantation workers, smallholders and indigenous people are wholly respected.” But SIFCA argues that Wilmar does not own majority shares in the company, so the company is, therefore, not obligated to abide by the rules of the Roundtable, thereby leaving the hapless people of the district hopeless as the GOL continues to pay deaf ears to the rigor of plight of the people of Pleebo-Sodoken District. More besides, can the Roundtable apply the same formulae used in Kalimantan in 2015 and now in Kapa to Golden Veroleum, which is a member of the Roundtable, operating in Southeastern Liberia?
The Complaints Panel of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has just found in favour of a complaint against the oil palm giant, Wilmar International, finding that it has indeed unlawfully taken over the lands of the Kapa community without their consent.
In October 2014, the Kapa community, an indigenous people from West Sumatra, Indonesia, had filed a formal complaint with the RSPO stating that Wilmar International's subsidiary, PT PHP1, had taken over part of their customary lands and established an oil palm plantation without community consent.
After waiting more than two years for a ruling, on 1 February 2017, the Kapa received the RSPO's decision that Wilmar had acted in violation of the RSPO sustainability standard, and had not fulfilled the requirements of Indonesian law. The ruling requires Wilmar to now take steps to respect the land rights of the Kapa.
Commenting on the decision, Gampo Alam, leader of the Kapa community said: "We have struggled for more than a decade to have our rights recognised after losing lands to Wilmar. We hope that Wilmar International will now honour the ruling of the RSPO, and will quickly restore our right to the lands that it took without our consent. For the Kapa, our customary land cannot be sold as it is our identity."
The land disputes of the Minangkabau peoples with PT PHP1 have been a cause of international concern since the RSPO first adopted its standards. There has been a long history of police intimidation, disputes about smallholdings and efforts to seed community divisions.
However, despite all this, the Kapa community has been able to maintain its resolve to recover its land. The community has been clear with Wilmar that it does not accept the company taking out a long-term business lease (HGU) over their lands, as this would permanently extinguish their rights.
In 2014, the Kapa community formally filed a complaint with RSPO after learning that Wilmar was still trying to get a HGU over its land. Despite a minuted meeting between Wilmar and community representatives held with RSPO staff in Kuala Lumpur in November 2014, at which the company agreed to explore other legal options, Wilmar went ahead and took out an HGU. The community leader was then arrested by local police while other council members were harassed. Despite the intimidation, the community stood firm by its demands for justice.
Forest Peoples Programme Policy Advisor, Patrick Anderson, said: "This vital judgment from RSPO demonstrates that even the largest companies can’t get away with land grabbing. RSPO has ruled that companies must respect indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ customary rights to land and only operate on their lands with their free, prior and informed consent."