Commercial Palm Oil Production in Southeast Asia Violating Indigenous Peoples' Rights: New Survey


photo: Forest Peoples Programme

Take this one as reinforcement of what plenty of environmental NGOs have been saying for some time: The commercial palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia is trampling the rights of indigenous people and destroying rainforests as it rapidly expands. A new report from the Forest Peoples Programme details the damage.The original report, Palm oil and indigenous peoples in South East Asia, goes through numerous specific examples of this occurring, but this is the trend:

While oil palm is a lucrative and productive crop and was originally grown as part of mixed farming economies in West Africa, currently it is being expanded as an industrial-scale monocrop in such a way as to impose serious long term social and environmental costs on those who can least afford them while bringing the most gains and benefits to those who already enjoy relative wealth. A major overhaul of the sector is needed if this pattern of land and wealth concentration is not to be intensified.

Unfair processes of land use allocation and land acquisition and the lack of respect for local communities and indigenous peoples' rights not only result in marginalization and impoverishment but also give rise to long term disputes over land, which all too often escalate into conflicts with concomitant human rights abuses due to repressive actions by company or State security forces.

Furthermore, the weak laws and lax enforcement of existing laws are not compatible with either international human rights law, not the traditional customary land tenure law of the indigenous peoples in across the various states of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Women In Particular Losing Out
One twist in this too-familiar saga is that women in particular are losing out (surprise, surprise...), as Mongabay highlights:

Whereas under customary law lands may be held by women (as among the Minangkabau in West Sumatra) or equally by men and women (as among most Dayak peoples in Borneo), when they get formal titles as smallholders these are vested in male heads of households," the report states. "The marginalization of women has been cited as a cause of the increased instances of prostitution in oil palm areas. According to the Indonesian Ministry of Women's Empowerment, the impact of oil palm plantations on rural women can include: an increase in time and effort to carry out domestic chores through the loss of access to clean and adequate water and fuel wood and an increase in medical costs due to loss of access to medicinal plants obtained from gardens and forests; loss of food and income from home gardens and cropping areas; loss of indigenous knowledge and socio-cultural systems and; an increase in domestic violence against women and children due to increased social and economic stresses.

Malaysia & Indonesia Produce 80%+ of World's Palm Oil
In case you don't already know, Indonesia and Malaysia produce over 80% of the world's palm oil, with an estimated 4 million hectares of land under monoculture cultivation in Malaysia and 7.5 million in Indonesia. Much of the financing comes from European banks, with an increasing amount coming from banks in the Middle East and from India and China as well. Even though Malaysia has a smaller amount of land under palm oil plantations, Malaysia corporations are behind about two-thirds of new cultivation in Indonesia.

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More on Palm Oil:
Logging, Palm Oil and Human Rights in Borneo: Malaysian Government Pushes Ahead by Ousting Indigenous Leaders
More Evidence Palm Oil Plantations Are Bad for Biodiversity: Have Two-Thirds Lower Ant Species Than Forests
UN says Palm Oil Industry is Wiping Out the Orang Utan
Palm Oil Plantations Store Even Less Carbon Than We Thought, New Study Shows

Tags: Environmental Justice | Indonesia | Malaysia