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Wilmar International grabs Kapa and Sasak customary lands in West Sumatra, Indonesia


In being responsible for 45% of the global trade in palm oil, Wilmar International is the biggest trader worldwide. In 2013, it announced a sustainability policy involving a zero tolerance of deforestation and peat land exploitation, with which all its subsidiaries and suppliers must comply. Further, company received the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RPSO) certification for sustainable production in 2005.  


The Kapa and Sasak people are indigenous to the province of Western Sumatra, and their livelihoods are concentrated to the district (Kabupaten) of Pasaman Barat, but to different sub-districts (Kecamatan), namely Luhak Nan Nua and Sasak Ranah Pesistir respectively (1). Despite being closely related, more information is available on the conflict between the Kapa and Wilmar, than on that between the Sasak and Wilmar. Therefore, more reference is here made to the Kapa case. 


The conflict between the two indigenous groups and Wilmar dates back to 1997, when the Kapa and Sasak leaders made their customary lands available to the district government (1). This, however, did not involve a formal surrender of Kapa and Sasak rights to their lands. However, PT Permata Hijau Pasamatan 1 (PT PHP1), a subsidiary of Wilmar International, was granted provisional land use rights by the local government for the establishment of oil palm plantations on Kapa territory. When PT PHP1 started its operations, the communities claim not to have been informed about the implications of those. The terms under which the company is using the Kapa and Sasak lands has been a question of dispute since (1; 2; 11).   


The land currently covered by PT PHP 1 plantations was previously covered by farmland, mangrove forest peat and swamps in which the villagers collected rattan or fished catfish (1). In 2014, PT PHP1 applied for a Hak Guna Usaha (HGU) – a commercial land lease – from the National Land Agency (BPN) over the Kapa and Sasak territory, without having sought prior consent by the communities. An HGU would, if obtained, grant the company a 35-year-long use right of the land. After the expiration of the permit, the land would be returned to the national government, not the communities. Consequently, Wilmar obtaining an HGU over the territory would deprive the Kapa and Sasak of all rights to the land (3).  


According to Indonesian law and the RSPO principles, companies are required to respect customary land rights and not operate on community land unless prior and informed consent has been obtained. As such, the Kapa responded to the HGU application by filing a complaint to the RSPO. The company agreed to discuss the matter with the community members under the presence of representatives from BPN. However, despite agreeing to look into other legal alternatives, the company did not withdraw its application (3).   


In March 2015, RSPO released a preliminary decision in the case, stating that the company did not break the law though its HGU application (4). The Kapa leader responded to the decision, and was soon thereafter imprisoned for two months, accused of having mismanaged community funds. However, the Forest Peoples Program (FPP) and other NGOs claim Wilmar to stand behind the charges, which the company denies (5; 6; 7). 


In February 2017, however, the RSPO declared that PT PHP1 had violated RSPO principles (8). The RSPO Complaints Panel recommended that the community-company land divisions would be established through participatory mapping to ensure shared community-company benefits, and that legal alternatives to an HGU would be explored based on the mapping results (2; 9). Initially, Wilmar announced its willingness to comply with these recommendations. Later, however, deeming not to have been able to give its input during the process, the company expressed complaints in relation to the way in which the case was handled by the RSPO. The Kapa, Sasak and supporting organizations are now hoping that the RSPO will stick to its 2017 ruling (10)

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Wilmar International grabs Kapa and Sasak customary lands in West Sumatra, Indonesia
State or province: West Sumatra
Location of conflict:Luhak Nan Duo and Pasaman Barat District
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Palm oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

PT PHP1 has a production capacity of 135,250 tonnes of Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB), 28,600 tonnes of Crude Palm Oil (CPO) a year and 6,900 tonnes of Palm Kernel Oil (PKO) each year. 25% of the CPO production by the company is sold domestically while 75% goes to the international market.

Project area:1,600 ha
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:31940
Start of the conflict:1997
Company names or state enterprises:PT Permata Hijau Pasaman 1 (subsidiary of Wilmar International Ltd) (PT PHP1) from Singapore
Relevant government actors:BPN (The Indonesian National Land Agency)
Local government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Forest Peoples Program (FPP)
Perkumpulan untuk Pembaharuan Hukum Berbasis Masyarakat dan Ekologis (HuMa)
Forest Peoples Programme, Sawit Watch, TuK Indonesia, Association KANI, HuMa, ADEV, Rights + Resources, Lembaga Gemawan, Ford Foundation, JOAS, Climate and Land Use Alliance, IDEAL, Green Advocates Liberia, WALHI, Setara Jambi, RELUFA, Centre Pour l’Environnement et le Développement, Indigenous Peoples’ Foundation for Education and Environment, AnthroWatch and PUSAKA,

Conflict and Mobilization

Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
complaint letter to the RSPO

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil contamination, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Potential: Displacement, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Under negotiation
RSPO implementation
Development of alternatives:The community itself wishes to company to find an “alternative way of renting or leasing land from then other than with an Hak Guna Usaha (HGU) – a commercial land lease ” (Mongabay 2017).
A joint report by social organizations recommends that the company informs the community of the meaning of its rights to manage the land, as well as the meaning of the RSPO certification, engage the whole community in decision-making and plantation development and manages the current legal shortcomings, as well as it develops a community-company conflict resolution mechanism (Colchester & Chao, 2013).
On part of the district government, the report recommends a legal review of the company operations, develop a mechanism that allows communities to lease their lands to companies that guarantees their national and international rights.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The conflict is still ongoing and it is unclear whether the RPSO will go ahead with its 2017 ruling, and if so, what that would imply.

Sources and Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] McCarthy, J. F., & Robinson, K. (Eds.). (2016). Land and Development in Indonesia: Searching for the People's Sovereignty. ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

FPP, 2017. PRESS: Wilmar has violated the rights of the Kapa indigenous community of West Sumatra, concludes RSPO

[8] RSPO, 2017. Complaint Case lodged by Forest People Programme and Community of Nagari Kapa against PT Permata Hijau Pasaman I. RSPO: Singapore

[3] Mongabay, 2017. Wilmar grabbed indigenous lands in Sumatra, RSPO finds

[1] Colchester & Chao, 2013. Conflict or consent? The oil palm sector at a crossroads.

[5] Eco-Business, 2017. RSPO rules on community complaint against Wilmar unit

[10] Mongabay, 2017. Wilmar appeals RSPO ruling that it grabbed indigenous lands in Sumatra

[7] Wilmar International Limited, 2015. Wilmar Categorically Refutes Allegations by Forest Peoples Programme

Eco-Business, 2015. Mounting complaints put Wilmar under scrutiny

[6] FPP, 2015. Criminalization of Complaints to RSPO Complaints Panel

Mongabay, 2017. Wilmar grabbed indigenous lands in Sumatra, RSPO finds

FPP, 2015. Criminalization of Complaints to RSPO Complaints Panel

[4] RSPO, 2015. Preliminary decision


(11) Wilmar International (2017). Wilmar's Response to Rain Forest Action Network's Report

Other documents

Source: Robert Wilson/Flickr ( Rural West Sumatra (Kapa territory)

Source: Wilmar's subsidiary in Kapa indigenous territory

Meta information

Contributor:Emmy Iwarsson (ICTA-UAB)
Last update02/04/2018



Source: Robert Wilson/Flickr (

Rural West Sumatra (Kapa territory)


Wilmar's subsidiary in Kap indigenous territory