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Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Escalating Conflict by Astra Agro Lestari in Sulawesi, Indonesia

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  • Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Escalating Conflict by Astra Agro Lestari in Sulawesi, Indonesia

After more than two years of pressure from Friends of the Earth U.S., in close alliance with WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, corporations took notice of harmful and abusive practices carried out by Astra Agro Lestari (AAL), one of Indonesia’s largest suppliers of palm oil to the world market. Beginning in the fall of 2022, a number of AAL’s customers began suspending palm oil sourcing from the company altogether, or from its plantations in the provinces of Central and West Sulawesi, which was the primary focus of our concerns. The first companies to take such action were Danone, Nestlé, Hershey’s, Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and L’Oreal. Earlier this month, Pepsico and FrieslandCampina followed suit.

For years, Friends of the Earth and WAHLI have drawn attention to decades of environmental and human rights abuses, illegal plantation permitting, and repression of community dissent, to restore local communities’ legally recognized land rights and end the criminalization that has destroyed the lives of the local indigenous communities. This criminalization — the use of state police and military forces — is best illustrated by the multiple arrests of one farmer who was finally awarded some of his land back after a 15 year resistance struggle. In March 2022, West Sulawesi police arrested five farmers who were involved in the struggle of the Kaili Tado Indigenous people seeking to restore their land rights.

Unfortunately, rather than pursuing a peaceful resolution following these recent business suspensions by Pepsico and FrieslandCampina, we are receiving reports that Astra Agro Lestari is fomenting further violence and intimidation, which is happening right now. In the words of one local land defender, “We were visited by a fully armed Mobile Brigade (the Indonesian military police) and other farmers. They forbade us from doing activities because they said the area belonged to the company. There have been no corrective actions from Astra Agro Lestari. Instead, the intimidation has become more massive.”

Below is a press release issued by WALHI on March 17, containing numerous eye-witness testimonies to the escalating conflict. WALHI rightly argues that responsibility for resolving the conflict is the proper role of the Indonesian government. But right now Friends of the Earth calls on all consumer goods companies, agribusiness traders and financiers with business ties to Astra Agro Lestari to immediately condemn the company’s actions before they lead to injury or loss of life.

Walhi, together with the community, demands state accountability for the conflict and criminalization by Astra Agro Lestari

JAKARTA – Two international companies decided to stop buying palm oil from Indonesian companies, last week. PepsiCo and FrieslandCampina join six other international companies such as L’Oréal, Nestle, Hershey’s, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Danone in suspending Astra Agro Lestari from their palm oil supply chains. This is due to Astra Agro Lestari violating human rights by confiscating land and criminalizing farming communities in Central Sulawesi and West Sulawesi, also worsening ecological damage. In the records of WALHI Central Sulawesi, as many as ten people have been criminalized with relatively the same motives, namely accusations of stealing palm fruit, occupying land without a permit, and making threats.

After being suspended by some international companies, Astra Agro Lestari tightened guard on the ground instead of showing corrective action. Ambo Enre, one of the farmers in North Morowali said that in the last few days, dozens of fully armed Mobile Brigade personnel guarded the area controlled by PT Agro Nusa Abadi (PT. ANA). “We were visited by a fully armed Mobile Brigade and other farmers. They forbade us from doing activities because they said the area belonged to the company. There have been no corrective actions from Astra Agro Lestari. Instead, the intimidation has become more massive,” Ambo said.

Ambo also added that the community currently needs firm action from the government. “If we asked to revoke the permit, what permit do they need to revoke? The thing is, PT ANA doesn’t have any permit. The government should immediately take over the area and return the land to the farmers. We also want to free our friends Gusman and Sudirman. Also, stop criminalizing and intimidating the community.”

Gusman and Sudirman were detained after a court found them guilty of stealing palm fruit belonging to PT ANA. Yansen Kudimang, one of the attorneys for Gusman and Sudirman stated that they found contradictions in the trial. “The basis for the public prosecutor is a location permit and a plantation business permit, these two grounds are related to land, but the judge’s decision stated this as a pure crime. The land issue is not explained, where PT ANA operates without a legally-required HGU (one of several types of land use permits, in its Indonesian acronym) on land owned by Gusman and Sudirman, which has been managed since before PT ANA was there,” Yansen explained.

Sunardi Katili, Director of WALHI Central Sulawesi, said that the difficulties of this agrarian conflict were the state’s responsibility. “The state should be responsible for what is experienced by the people that lived around PT Agro Nusa Abadi, PT Mamuang, and PT Lestari Tani Teladan, specifically the three ministries, namely the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, ATR/BPN (Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning / National Land Agency) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Plantations,” Sunardi said.

He added that the struggle that WALHI and the community are carrying out will continue with the suspension of eight international companies until the people’s rights return, which is the land and the right to a safe and secure life.

Uli Arta Siagian, WALHI National Forest and Garden Campaign Manager, stated that what Astra Agro Lestari is doing denotes a portrait of the palm oil industry in Indonesia, which is still filled with stories of conflict, human rights violations, and environmental and forest destruction. Stopping international companies from buying palm oil from Indonesian companies should encourage the government to improve palm oil governance.

“In our opinion, it is time for the government to stop issuing permits for large-scale oil palm plantations while improving governance by evaluating permits, resolving conflicts, and enforcing laws against companies that commit violations and crimes against the people and the environment. New changes are also needed by implementing a blacklisting scheme for companies or beneficiaries of companies that have been committing violations and crimes,” Uli added.

Quotes:

AMBO ENRE (farmers in North Morowali) — “We were visited by a fully armed Mobile Brigade and other farmers. They forbade us from doing activities because they said the area belonged to the company. There have been no corrective actions from Astra Agro Lestari. Instead, the intimidation has become more massive. The government should immediately take over the area and return the land to the farmers. We also want to free our friends Gusman and Sudirman. Also, stop criminalizing and intimidating the community.”

Yansen Kudimang (Lawyer society) — “We found contradictory things in the trials of Gusman and Sudirman, who were accused of stealing palm fruit. The basis for the public prosecutor is a location permit and a plantation business permit, these two grounds are related to land, but the judge’s decision stated that was a pure crime. The land issue is not explained, where PT ANA operates without HGU (Land use permit) on land owned by Gusman and Sudirman, which has been managed since before PT ANA was there.”

Sunardi Katili ( Director of WALHI Central Sulawesi) — “The complexity of this agrarian conflict is the state’s responsibility. The state should be responsible for what is experienced by the people that lived around PT Agro Nusa Abadi, PT Mamuang, and PT Lestari Tani Teladan, specifically the three ministries, namely the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, ATR/BPN (Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning / National Land Agency) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Plantations,”

Uli Arta Siagian (WALHI National Campaigner of Forest and Plantation) — “What Astra Agro Lestari is doing denotes a portrait of the palm oil industry in Indonesia, which is still filled with stories of conflict, human rights violations, and destruction of the environment and forests. Stopping international companies from buying palm oil from Indonesian companies should encourage the government to improve palm oil governance. It is time for the government to stop issuing permits for large-scale oil palm plantations while improving governance by evaluating permits, resolving conflicts, and enforcing laws against companies that commit violations and crimes against the people and the environment. New changes are also needed by implementing a blacklisting scheme for companies or beneficiaries of companies that have been committing violations and crimes.”

The post Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Escalating Conflict by Astra Agro Lestari in Sulawesi, Indonesia appeared first on Friends of the Earth.

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