Friends of the Earth responds to Indonesian palm oil investigation

Friends of the Earth groups respond to new investigation into environmental and human rights violations by Indonesian palm oil company Astra Agro Lestari

Groups demand justice more than a year after documented abuses and following recent decisions of nine consumer goods companies to suspend sourcing from AAL

JAKARTA / WASHINGTON  – Last week, Astra Agro Lestari (AAL) – Indonesia’s second-largest palm oil company – announced that it had appointed independent consultant Eco Nusantara to further investigate environmental and human rights violations committed by three AAL subsidiaries in Central and West Sulawesi, Indonesia. Friends of the Earth groups, the original complainants in the case against AAL, were not consulted in the development of terms of reference for the new investigation. 

“Communities impacted by AAL’s destructive operations have made it clear that they are not looking for further investigation,” said Uli Arta Siagian, Forest and Plantation Campaigner at WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia. “Every day justice is delayed is another day justice is denied. The evidence that has emerged over the past year is sufficient for AAL to take responsibility for its actions. Yet, the company instead chooses to intimidate communities whose land has been forcibly taken from them. The Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and National Land Agency should ensure that AAL is held accountable for its abuses and that farmers receive their land back.”

In March 2022, WALHI and Friends of the Earth US published a report detailing how AAL subsidiaries PT Agro Nusa Abadi (ANA), PT Lestari Tani Teladan, and PT Mamuang were engaged in land grabbing, environmental degradation and the criminalization of environmental human rights defenders. Nine consumer brands, including PepsiCo, Hershey’s and Mondelez, have since suspended palm oil sourcing from AAL. 

Despite the increased scrutiny, AAL has chosen to escalate conflicts with impacted communities. Last month, fully armed Indonesian paramilitary police threatened farmers on lands contested between communities and AAL subsidiary PT ANA. Notably, PT ANA has been operating for over a decade without a HGU –  the required legal permit to cultivate land. 

In August 2022, Eco Nusantara conducted an initial investigation into AAL and released a verification report that broadly affirmed many violations. 

“We expect Eco Nusantara’s new investigation to affirm what has already been revealed: that AAL is operating on communities’ lands without their consent,” said Gaurav Madan, Senior Forests and Lands Campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S. “AAL should be held accountable for environmental degradation and human rights abuses and accordingly be required to remedy the harm it’s done. The terms of reference for this new investigation should be made public in the interest of full transparency. The world is watching.” 

Impacted communities, Friends of the Earth groups, and international civil society organizations are calling on AAL to return land back to communities taken without their consent, including lands for which farmers have legal certificates; provide compensation to communities for the loss of lands and livelihoods; clear the names of individuals who have been criminalized; and issue a public apology for environmental and human rights violations committed.

In AAL’s statement announcing the new investigation, the company conveyed a ‘sincere apology to any parties for the inconvenience arising from this case.’ 

“For farmers who have lost their livelihoods, for defenders who have been thrown in jail, for community leaders that have faced death threats, these are not mere inconveniences,” said Aulia Hakim, Campaigner at WALHI Central Sulawesi. “Instead of treating communities that are the rightful owners of the land with contempt, AAL should show more humility for its role in sowing conflict.”

Communications contact: Brittany Miller, [email protected], (202) 222-0746

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