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)