Friends of the Earth groups reject inadequate, inaccurate Astra Agro Lestari report on environmental and human rights violations in IndonesiaOne-sided corporate investigation fails to examine many allegations of abuse, permitting irregularities by palm oil giant AAL and its subsidiaries while ignoring civil society inputs
JAKARTA / WASHINGTON – Friends of the Earth groups issued a detailed response denouncing a new verification report by Indonesia’s second largest palm oil company, Astra Agro Lestari (AAL), and its consultants, concerning environmental and human rights violations by the company’s subsidiaries. WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) and Friends of the Earth US detail how AAL’s verification report was the result of a unilaterally-dictated investigation that ignored civil society inputs, failed to investigate a number of critical allegations, failed to examine whether AAL subsidiaries ever received the free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) of communities, and produced biased and inaccurate findings.
“This one-sided investigation chose to only investigate communities and failed to investigate AAL,” said Uli Arta Siagian, Forest and Plantation Campaign Manager at WALHI National. “Despite international condemnation and consumer goods companies suspending sourcing from AAL over abuses in Sulawesi, the investigation did not bother to look at how AAL subsidiaries acquired lands from communities or whether these companies are operating legally. The investigation demanded communities show documentation for their land claims, while not requiring the same level of proof from AAL. This completely ignores the power asymmetries between rural communities and powerful companies, as well as ignores the complicated reality of land rights recognition in Indonesia.”
AAL’s latest verification report notably does not look at whether its subsidiaries attempted to receive Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from impacted communities, a critical allegation documented by WALHI and FOE US in its March 2022 report, No Consent: Astra Agro Lestari’s land grab in Central and West Sulawesi, Indonesia. AAL’s new report also fails to investigate many other allegations from the March 2022 report, including whether AAL subsidiaries hold each of the required permits to operate, multiple cases of criminalization of environmental human rights defenders, and environmental degradation caused to rivers.
“What AAL’s report doesn’t say speaks as loudly as what it attempts to justify,” says Gaurav Madan, Senior Forest and Land Rights Campaigner at Friends of the Earth US. “Let’s remember that the focus of the investigation was entirely decided by AAL – and it failed to address many of the concerns of buyers, shareholders, and civil society. How long must communities wait to have justice delivered? How many investigations must they suffer before they receive their land back? How many reports need to be published for companies to act? It’s time AAL’s buyers use their platforms and leverage to push the company to remedy the harm it’s done.”
In March 2023, AAL announced that it had hired consultant group Eco Nusantara to conduct an investigation into the allegations of environmental and human rights violations by its subsidiaries in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Neither AAL nor its consultants consulted with impacted communities or civil society on what should be included in the TOR prior to its finalization. In June, WALHI and FOE US shared an in-depth analysis of the TOR, which included suggestions on how the focus of investigation should shift onto AAL. Despite assurances from AAL’s consultants that they would address civil society feedback and design the investigation in an inclusive way, the investigation proceeded based on the flawed TOR without taking into account any suggestions or recommendations provided by civil society.
“AAL’s new verification report conspicuously does not mention FPIC even once,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Program Manager at Friends of the Earth US. “Yet, FPIC is the critical factor for distinguishing between legitimate land acquisition and land grabbing. Shareholders, buyers, and consumer goods companies with supply chain links to AAL, which have all committed to respect FPIC in their sustainability policies, must take notice and suspend all sourcing from this rogue company. Paper policies are only as good as their implementation.”
Since the publication of the March 2022 report, ten consumer goods companies have suspended sourcing from AAL in some capacity. BlackRock – the world’s largest asset manager – voted against directors at both AAL and parent company Astra International’s shareholder meetings over the past two years due to this case.
Communities continue to demand AAL return land back that it has taken without consent; provide compensation to farmers for loss of lands and livelihoods; conduct environmental restoration to damaged and degraded rivers; clear the names of environmental human rights defenders who have been criminalized; and issue a public apology for harm done. Notably, the amount of land back being requested by communities is less than .1% of the AAL’s entire land bank.