LONDON: The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has upheld a complaint lodged by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) against a rogue palm oil company and has ordered it to immediately stop clearing customary forests in Indonesian Borneo.
Singapore-listed First Resources Ltd must now cease all developments in the concession in Kutaia Barat regency, East Kalimantan, until the conflict with the Dayak Benuaq community of Muara Tae is resolved.
The RSPO move vindicates the position of the Dayak Benuaq, who have protested against the clearing of their land and have never consented to the development.
EIA lodged a formal grievance against First Resources on October 17, 2012, providing evidence that it had breached a range of the RSPO’s principles and criteria (P&Cs). The grievance outlined how First Resources had violated the New Planting Procedures, which demand that any company obtain the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of affected communities before beginning land clearing.
Fraudulent documents submitted to the RSPO claimed FPIC had been obtained, but in a series of meetings with the company the Dayak Benuaq have repeatedly stated their objection to the plantation and their desire to continue using the forest.
The RSPO has upheld the grievance in its entirety and ordered First Resources, as an RSPO member, to cease operating until a number of conditions have been met. This includes working with EIA to produce an action plan to arrive at an “amicable solution” to the dispute with the Dayak Benuaq.
The company has already cleared a substantial area within the customary territory of Muara Tae, including destruction of forests protecting the Utak Melinau river and farmland. This has incurred substantial livelihood losses and has damaged a principal source of water for the village.
Any solution to the dispute must include the restitution of all annexed lands and an appropriate compensation mechanism to mitigate the damage already done.
In the meantime, the onus is on First Resources to observe the instructions of the RSPO if it is not to incur further damage to its reputation.
The RSPO’s grievance panel, which decided on the complaint, held that there is evidence that First Resources’ failings in this concession were not a “one-off” but may be “systemic in nature” due to similarities with a case in West Kalimantan.
EIA Forests Campaigner Tom Johnson said: “This decision provides some welcome relief for the Dayak Benuaq, who have been under siege from First Resources and those Government agencies the company has been able to mobilise against them.
“The fight is by no means over and EIA, the community and other NGOs will be watching First Resources’ every move. The company must accept and abide by this decision and stop behaving like a gang of thugs – it’s time for First Resources to grow up.”