Friends of the Earth groups denounce recent case of intimidation by Astra Agro Lestari, call for immediate de-escalationAAL security staff visited two Sulawesi women who recently criticized the palm oil company’s harmful operations
JAKARTA/WASHINGTON/AMSTERDAM – Friends of the Earth (FOE) groups strongly denounce the most recent instance of intimidation by Astra Agro Lestari (AAL) against community members who are calling for the return of their land taken by the company without consent.
On December 4, staff and security agents from AAL – Indonesia’s second largest palm oil company – visited two women in Rio Mukti village in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, insisting they sign a letter stating there was no land conflict between AAL-subsidiary PT Lestari Tani Teladan (PT LTT) and local communities.
The visit came two days after WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) shared a video featuring the two women speaking about the adverse impacts of AAL’s operations and calling for the return of communities’ lands. FOE groups are calling on all concerned parties, including Indonesian authorities, to intervene and de-escalate the situation immediately.
“Every single institution with a connection to AAL must prevent the company from retaliating against communities that are struggling for their lands and livelihoods,” said Uli Arta Siagian, Forest and Plantation Campaign Manager at WALHI National. “The intimidation carried out by AAL against women who called on the company to return their land once again demonstrates AAL’s repressive tactics. AAL is responsible for several cases of criminalization over the past few years alone. Community leaders and environmental human rights defenders have been thrown in jail multiple times due to AAL’s forceful tactics. Indonesian authorities, including the National Human Rights Commission, should ensure this does not escalate into a new campaign of intimidation by AAL.”
Evidence of environmental and human rights violations by AAL and its subsidiaries PT LTT, PT Mamuang, and PT Agro Nusa Abadi was publicly documented in a March 2022 report published by WALHI and Friends of the Earth US. Since the publication of the report, ten consumer goods companies have suspended sourcing from AAL in some capacity. Many companies with ties to AAL have committed on paper to protect and support human rights and human rights defenders. Notably, in September 2023, consumer goods giant Unilever released a policy in support of human rights defenders which explicitly stated intolerance for intimidation, attacks, or reprisals against environmental human rights defenders.
“This is a textbook case of intimidation and coercion by a powerful company against villagers struggling for their lands and livelihoods,” said Gaurav Madan, Senior Forest and Land Rights Campaigner at Friends of the Earth US. “Violence against defenders is a global epidemic. Actions speak louder than empty words, fruitless investigations, and paper policies. Now is the time for companies and investors that enable AAL to publicly demand it return land back to communities it has taken without consent. Companies and investors should cut ties with this unrepentant company, ensure remedy for the harm it’s done, and prepare for a just transition away from industrial agribusiness operations which are predicated on violence and land theft.”
Last week, AAL released a flawed report that attempted to address long standing allegations of abuse by the company. Friends of the Earth groups rejected the report for failing to examine multiple cases of criminalization, whether AAL subsidiaries ever received the free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) of communities, or the extent of environmental degradation due to palm oil operations. The report was the result of a unilaterally-dictated investigation by the company which demanded communities show documentation for their land claims, while not requiring the same level of proof from AAL.
Communities continue to call on AAL to 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 impacted by AAL subsidiaries PT LTT, PT Mamuang, and PT Nusa Agro Abadi is less than .1% of AAL’s entire land bank.