Photo: Carles Rabada via Unsplash
Astra Agro Lestari in Indonesia: Ongoing criminalisation, human rights abuses and land grabbing
Representatives from Indigenous Peoples, civil society, and community-based organisations around the world sent an open letter to household consumer goods companies demanding they immediately suspend Indonesia’s second largest palm oil company, Astra Agro Lestari from their supply chains and work to redress the grievances of impacted communities. The letter is directed at the “Forest Positive Coalition” of the Consumer Goods Forum – a consortium of the world’s top consumer brands – ahead of its meeting during NYC Climate Week 2022.
To: Jon Moeller, Procter & Gamble, CEO; Dirk Van de Put, Mondelēz, CEO; Michele Buck, Hershey’s, CEO; Steve Cahillane, Kellogg’s, CEO; Noel R. Wallace, Colgate-Palmolive, CEO; Alan Jope, Unilever, CEO; Ulf Mark Schneider, Nestlé, CEO; Ramon Laguarta, PepsiCo, CEO
CC: Consumer Goods Forum; Consumer Goods Forum Forest Positive Coalition
CC: Mary Lawlor, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders
As representatives from Indigenous Peoples, civil society, and community-based organizations around the world, we the undersigned are writing to you regarding ongoing criminalization, human rights abuses, and land grabbing against local farmers, land and environmental human rights defenders, and communities by your palm oil supplier Astra Agro Lestari (AAL) and its subsidiary PT Mamuang in Central and West Sulawesi, Indonesia.
AAL is Indonesia’s second largest palm oil company and supplies Crude Palm Oil (CPO) through its mills to various consumer companies, including Procter & Gamble, Hershey’s, Kellogg, Unilever, Mondelēz, Colgate-Palmolive, PepsiCo, and Nestlé, amongst others.
In March 2022, five Indigenous farmers and members of the Kailo Tado people were arrested by the Pasangkayu police in West Sulawesi based on allegations made by PT Mamuang. The accusation was made by the company after members of the Kabuyu Community Alliance marched to PT Mamuang’s office in February 2022 in protest of the company’s sustained role in forcibly grabbing communities’ land, contributing to environmental destruction, negatively impacting communities’ livelihoods, and criminalizing land and environmental human rights defenders. The leader of the march was one of the five farmers arrested. Notably, two of the five farmers arrested were not present during the march.
This is only the most recent case of criminalization linked to AAL. Since 2017, WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia has documented at least 10 cases of criminalization by AAL. In 2017, four farmers from Polanto Jaya village were criminalized for harvesting palm oil fruit bunches from their own lands, for which they held legal Land Registration Certificates (SKPT ) and Freehold Certificates (SHM) demonstrating their ownership. After several court hearings, each side in the dispute was ordered to show documentation of their rights to the land. PT Mamuang failed to provide documentation of its legal rights to the land, but the Pasangkayu District Court sentenced the four Polanto Jaya residents to prison for four to seven months.
In 2003, 107 farming households mobilized to defend their land when they learned that PT Mamuang had planted oil palm outside the HGU concession along the Pasangkayu watershed which is less than 50 meters from the edge of the watershed. Since then, the people of Kaili Tado have been slowly occupying the oil palm land planted by PT Mamuang and managing the land around their area.
In 2010, following several years of forced evictions and land grabbing by PT Mamuang, the company clashed with local communities over the harvesting of palm oil fruit on farmers’ lands. When local farmer Franz Hemsi stood up for his community, he was arrested and imprisoned for allegedly stealing from his own land, which the company claimed as part of their operations. In 2015, PT Mamuang sent a group of thugs to intimidate Hemsi and his family. In 2017, he filed a police report against PT Mamuang and was subsequently detained for alleged theft and destruction of property. Hemsi was once again sentenced to prison, this time for five months and seven days.
In April 2018, Hemsi contacted the Indonesian National Land Agency to register his land in hopes of receiving a formal recognition of his rights. The Agency found that the company had no legal right to operate on Hemsi’s land. Regardless, in December 2018, one day after his wife gave birth to their third child, Hemsi was picked up by police and charged with theft. He was again sentenced to five months in prison. In 2020, after Hemsi filed an appeal to the Indonesian Supreme Court, which remains pending, and met with AAL’s financiers in Europe, about half of the land grabbed by the company was returned.
Since PT Mamuang commenced palm oil operations in 1991, the company has been involved in protracted land conflicts with local communities, accused of forcibly taking communities’ land without their Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC), criminalizing farmers and land and environmental defenders, and illegally occupying Indonesia’s Protected Forest Zone. The Indigenous Kaili Tado people have been particularly negatively impacted by AAL and PT Mamuang’s operations. The Kaili Tado produce a variety of crops, including rice, corn, cocoa, and coconuts, but when the company encroached on their ancestral lands, they lost access to productive lands.