Thursday, November 7, 2013

[biofuelwatch] RSPO: Major palm oil companies accused of breaking ethical promises

Major palm oil companies accused of breaking ethical promises

Large plantations are destroying forests, damaging wildlife and
causing social conflict in Asia and Africa, report finds

John Vidal, Wednesday 6 November 2013 16.28 GMT
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An access road under construction in forest being cleared for a palm
oil plantation in Sumatra. Photograph: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty

Large palm oil companies that have promised to act ethically have been
accused of land grabbing, ignoring human rights and exploiting labour
in their African and Asian plantations.

In a damning 400-page investigation, the companies are variously
charged with impacting on orangutan populations, destroying tropical
forest and burning and draining large tracks of peat swamp forest.

Sixteen palm oil concessions, in Indonesia, Liberia, the
Philippines,Malaysia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon,
all operated by members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
(RSPO) were visited by monitors working with international human
rights groups including UK-based Forest peoples programme and Sawit
Watch, from Indonesia. Local communities consistently accused the
companies of not respecting their customary land rights, violating
laws and court rulings and acting in such a way that encouraged

The growing global demand for palm oil has fuelled a massive expansion
of plantations across the forests of southeast Asia and Africa but
concerns have been growing for over a decade about the resulting
environmental and social impacts. The RSPO, set up in 2004 by the
industry and civil society groups including WWF, sets criteria for
greener palm oil production and tries to encourage industry expansion
in ways that do not cause social conflict.

About 15% of the world's palm oil is now certified as "sustainable" by
the RSPO, whose members range from some of the largest growers and
traders, to relatively small companies.

"Since its founding the RSPO has adopted good standards, but too many
member companies are not delivering on these paper promises," said
Norman Jiwan, director of human rights group Transformasi Untuk
Keadilan Indonesia.

The report will be published on Thursday in Sumatra, where over 10.8m
hectares of land has been planted with oil palm trees, to coincide
with the annual meeting of the RSPO in Medan, Indonesia.

It follows growing alarm at the way communities in Asia and Africa are
being pushed aside to make way for large plantations and the loss
ofwildlife, including the tiger. Many organisations, including the
World Bank, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, Greenpeace and
Walhi, have expressed deep concern at the resulting impoverishment of
local commuities and the growth of confllict around the concessions.

According to some, the RSPO's voluntary "best practice" rules and
guidelines are not working and the organisation is in danger of
becoming a figleaf for agribusiness to take advantage of weak land

"Underlying this failure of 'voluntary best practice' are national
laws and policies which deny or ignore indigenous peoples' and
communities' land rights," said Marcus Colchester, an adviser at
Forest Peoples Programme.

"In their rush to encourage investment and exports, governments are
trampling their own citizens' rights. Global investors, retailers,
manufacturers and traders must insist on dealing in conflict-free palm
oil, and national governments must up their game and respect
communities' rights."

Concern in the report centres on the Indonesian legal system which is
described as "unjust" because it allows land to be expropriated from
local peoople without regard for internationally recognised rights.
Land laws favour large-scale plantations and lead to the widespread
abuse of human rights. The report found that palm oil expansion in the
Malaysian state of Sarawak was systematically grabbing Dayak lands
without their consent.

"So much effort has been invested in the RSPO ... but to little
avail," said Jefri Saragih, executive director of Sawit Watch, a
founding member of the RSPO. "We can point to one or two good results
on the ground, but there are thousands of land conflicts with oil palm
companies in Indonesia alone, and the problem is now spreading to
other parts of Asia and Africa. We are calling for an urgent and
vastly expanded response to this crisis."

The RSPO responded to the criticism in a statement. "Making the palm
oil market fully sustainable is possible but only over time, and with
the right levels of commitment. The RSPO depends on the goodwill of
companies on the ground, and local government authorities, to ensure
that these principles and criteria are abided to. There have been a
number of cases of non-compliant members."

It further said that it has strengthened its commitment towards human
rights, requring companies to implement policies to counter
corruption, ban forced labour and forbid use of disputed lands.
However, there is no legal compulsion on members to comply with RSPO's
principles and criteria.

"Non-complying member organisations can simply opt to leave the RSPO
in the midst of a complaint, and consequently they will not be
governed by any of our rules. The RSPO closely monitors the activities
of its members [but] it has no legal way to enforce its members to


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