Joint Press Release

RSPO Allows Its Members to Operate in Forest Areas

Jakarta 21 November 2023. The 2023 Roundtable Sustainable on Palm Oil (RT RSPO) conference is being held in Jakarta on 20-22 November. This meeting is a moment to reflect on the 20 years existence of RSPO and this multi-stakeholder organization’s works. Sustainable certification fails to ensure companies’ compliance to high-level commitments to reduce and control environmental crime.

The RSPO’s journey has determined its alignment in ensuring the sustainability of palm oil production in Indonesia. However, facts show that palm oil production is full of bloody conflicts involving local communities. Not only that, guarantees for sustainable palm oil plantations have proven to fail to be realized. This failure can be proven by a number of cases that occurred and lasted almost throughout 2023 where oil palm planting in forest areas and forest fires are still ongoing.

TuK INDONESIA found that from the total ‘amnesty’ of 836 hectares of illegal palm oil in forest areas, large company groups that are RSPO members included in the amnesty scheme with their respective percentages include: Musim Mas Holdings Pte. Ltd. (33.1%), PT. Sawit Sumbermas Sarana (23.2%), Goodhope Asia Holdings Ltd. (14.9%), Golden Agri-Resources Ltd (12.4%), and Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (5%). TuK INDONESIA also notes that RSPO member banks and investors are also involved in financing companies whose palm oil is in forest areas, including BNP Paribas and HSBC Holdings Plc.

Pantau Gambut identified that the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) allowed its members to operate in illegal areas. This claim is based on Pantau Gambut’s findings that there are 47 RSPO member companies out of a total of 278 companies actively operating in the Peat Hydrological Area (KHG) covering an area of 407,264 hectares. What is controversial is that 84% of this area is a peat ecosystem protective function which is clearly prohibited for commercial activities, as stipulated in the Government Regulation (PP) No. 57 of 2016 on Amendments to Government Regulation Number 71 of 2014 concerning Protection and Management of Peat Ecosystems. Seeing these conditions, Pantau Gambut encourages all parties related to the RSPO to express their position that the RSPO is no longer relevant. Our findings show that RSPO membership does not guarantee commitment to preserve and protect the forest areas.

Greenpeace said that RSPO member companies have a combined total of 283,686 hectares of oil palm located illegally in forest areas, despite the RSPO Principles and Criteria demanding compliance with applicable national laws and regulations. Among these companies, Greenpeace Indonesia also identified nearly 100 RSPO member companies with each having more than 100 ha planted in forest areas, while there are eight companies with each having more than 10,000 ha.

The significant presence of RSPO-certified plantations within forest areas jeopardizes commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report “code red for humanity,” states that after the use of fossil energy, land use change, including activities such as conversion of forest areas for oil palm plantations, is the second largest contributor to climate change.

“Palm oil companies that illegally operate in forest areas must receive strict sanctions, not only administrative but also criminal sanctions, instead of enjoying amnesty. The RSPO should be able to revoke all certification of its member companies operating in forest areas. “This proves that mechanisms such as RSPO are no longer relevant in solving palm oil supply chain problems from upstream to downstream,” stressed Syahrul Fitra, Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace Indonesia.

TuK INDONESIA Director Linda Rosalina explained that RSPO is no longer relevant today and has failed to guarantee the sustainability of palm oil. This institution has actually become a means of shelter for environmentally destructive corporations. They are at the forefront of causing climate change, RSPO is a tool for these companies to continue their “greenwashing” agenda. The public is then deceived into using RSPO certified products from the supply chains of well-known international brands.

Another thing that is in the spotlight is RSPO’s rejection of complaints from the people of Kerunang-Entapang, Seruyan Regency, West Kalimantan Province regarding the operation of PT Mitra Austral Sejahtera, a subsidiary of Sime Darby in 2012. The complaint process was long and claimed victims yet it did not produce any resolutions. On 10 August 2023, RSPO stated that this complaint had insufficient evidence and ignored the evidence submitted by the community in the form of Derasah customary law as proof that the community’s land had not been sold to the company. The RSPO also stated that they could not decide on the case because PT Mitra Austral Sejahtera was not a member of the RSPO since it was no longer a subsidiary of Sime Darby (2023).

TuK INDONESIA itself identified that throughout the decade-and-a-half-long history of the RSPO, statistics show that as many as 74 complaints against RSPO Members were submitted in the RSPO Complaints System. On the RSPO complaints portal web page, it’s shown that since the mechanism was implemented until now, there have been 160 complaints. Although it does not include complaints that the RSPO managed to close without a dismissal decision, it was identified that from 2018 to 2023, Indonesia was the country with the most problematic captured palm oil plantations – at least in terms of the number of complaints.

Labor issues were the most frequently reported issue (38.5%), followed by deforestation issues (12.8%), Free, Prior and Informed Consent/FPIC (9.4), intimidation of local communities and/or indigenous communities (9, 4%), then land disputes (8.5), which based on field observations and advocacy work that has been carried out so far, these issues are closely interconnected and intertwined with each other.

Pantau Gambut Advocacy and Campaign Manager, Wahyu Perdana explained, “Claim that RSPO is no longer relevant is based on our assessment of the RSPO Principles and Criteria process which is not actually carried out on its members who are proven guilty.” This is proven by the number of RSPO member companies operating in Peat Hydrological Unit (KHG) which were prone to forest and land fires (karhutla) for the period of 2015 to 2019.

In addition, Pantau Gambut noted that there are at least 2 RSPO members who are included in the list of 32 companies locked up by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry regarding forest and land fires in 2023, namely PT Sampoerna Agro and PT Perkebunan Nusantara VII. Throughout 2015-2020, Pantau Gambut recorded that 16,193.6 hectares of oil palm concessions in forest areas in the KHG area had been burned.

The above conditions violate Criteria 7.7 in the 2018 Principles & Criteria (P&C) which regulates the prohibition of planting new oil palms on peatlands, regardless of the peatlands’ depth. Ironically, the

illegal palm oil amnesty policy in Indonesia has been included in the 2023 Job Creation Law through articles 110A and 110B. Wahyu added, “Articles 110A and 110B in the 2023 Job Creation Law will open a new tap for forgiveness of illegal palm oil plantation activities in forest areas, including peat ecosystems.”

Media Contact

If you need guidance or consultation regarding this publication, you can contact:

Campaigner Pantau Gambut; Abil Salsabila – [email protected]
Researcher TuK INDONESIA; Mufida – [email protected]
Forest Campaigner Greenpeace Indonesia; Syahrul Fitra – [email protected]

This post is also available in: Indonesian