RSPO Dispatch: Cargill’s message to local communities – We have no time for you

Written by David Gilbert

Topics: Agribusiness

share this story
facebook twitter email stumble upon
Get Forest Alerts

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded to create a path towards sustainability in the palm oil industry. A voluntary process, oil palm producers, traders, buyers, and NGO’s have joined up to find an alternative to the massive forest destruction, social conflict, and climate chaos the booming palm oil industry is bringing to the world’s rainforests. But eight years into the process, there is still nothing sustainable about the palm oil the RSPO endorses.

Early on, the RSPO identified accountability and transparency as key criteria to reduce the palm oil industry’s corrupt, dirty, and dangerous practices. Reflecting such, the first criteria for joining the RSPO are commitments to transparency.

But even a basic level of transparency is too much to ask from the USA’s largest producer and trader of palm oil, Cargill. Cargill was quick to sign up for the RSPO and to claim their support for the RSPO’s criteria. But when it comes to actually following the RSPO’s criteria for sustainable palm oil, Cargill is a non-starter. Hiring a questionable audit firm, Cargill has managed to pay its way into RSPO certification without living up to RSPO criteria.

This week, I attended the RSPO’s annual conference with two victims of Cargill’s oil palm operations in Indonesia. These community members, one of them the head of his small Indonesian village, traveled thousands of miles to meet Cargill face to face, to fight for the land Cargill has taken away from them.

Interested in their plight, one of the top-ranking members of the RSPO’s Executive Board agreed to help set up a meeting with Cargill. But William Griffiths, one of Cargill’s key managers based in Singapore, refused to meet with these effected community members. Cargill’s reply: “It is better we do not meet.”

William Griffiths had the time to travel from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, to spend multiple days at the RSPO, meeting with buyers and other palm oil producers, but he did not find 30 minutes to listen to representatives from his own plantations express their concerns about Cargill’s dirty, dangerous, and neo-colonial practices in Indonesia.

Palm oil production in Indonesia, where Cargill is a major player, is killing the last of the world’s wild orangutans, bringing poverty to forest peoples,  and causing global warming. The first step in addressing these issues is to bring access and accountability to these companies. As William Griffiths made painfully clear at the RSPO, Cargill has no interest in improving their negative practices, no interest in the welfare of local communities at their plantations, and has repeatedly failed to live up to their own commitments to the RSPO.

MORE on Cargill’s legacy of destruction and neo-colonial practices in Indonesia.

3 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. gustafo says:

    thanks for your artikel

  2. K. M. Suriya Moorthy says:

    These two plantations were developed by Indonesian Companies in the early 90s. CDC then took a majority stake in one of these Companies in the late 90s. Cargill took a majority stake in the other Company late 90s. CDC then divested its majority stake in these Companies to CTP (Cargill) in late 2005. Its factually and indeed, morally incorrect to state that Cargill has taken the land away from the villagers! CDC and later Cargill have made immense contributions through their CSR and Community Development programmes to significantly improve the lives of the villagers/communities in the areas where the plantations operate. CDC and later Cargill are also pioneers in establishing wildlife corridors within the plantation concession. Indeed, contributions are made to the sustainability of wildlife preservation efforts by certain responsibe and active NGOs in this area of preservation. RSPO certification was done and if this was granted by RSPO, the certification body is certainly of very high repute. Readers need be aware that Cargill is a leader in Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) protocols to the extent that Managers found in lapse of their EHS responsibilities face stern disciplinary action including a high probability of summary dismissal. Cargill takes their responsibilities to communities and the hoct countries very seriously and will not breach any laws. Its unfair to attack William Griffiths as he was attending the RSPO Roundtable meet. If the villagers travelled to Kuala Lumpur for the RSPO, they certainly must have been sponsored by an interested party. The RSPO is not the forum for the villagers to meet with William Griffiths. Cargill has their respective Department Managers to address issues like these. It must not be forgotten that these villagers were adequately compensated for the land alienated to the then Indonesian Company in return for which co-operatives were formed, oil palm plantations on the plasma concept developed and handed over to the villagers. I know William Griffiths and I do not for a moment believe that he has in any way stated that “Cargill has no interest in improving their negative practices, no interest in the welfare of local communities at their plantations”. Its simply untrue! Readers need be aware that Cargill (CTP) is fully committed to the implementation of the RSPO P&C in all of their plantations in Indonesia & PNG.

  3. Andrew says:

    Let’s take a step back and understand what RSPO means before defending shall we?

    RSPO is groundbreaking in its level of commitment to sustainability and in bringing together groups from conflicting background to meet and talk. That is what RSPO is fundamentally about. Nobody’s taking sides. Therfore Moorthy’s statement: “The RSPO is not the forum for the villagers to meet with William Griffiths” is not just factually incorrect, but is akin to a smack in the face of RSPO, and to ALL its members.

    I was at RT7, and I witnessed meetings between various villagers, stakeholders with palm oil producers, buyers, etc. mainly because these supply chain actors truly understood the meaning of RSPO, and, finally see the value of engagement and dialogue.

    Unfortunately, CTP failed to understand the opportunity and seize the moment to do something that is morally right.

    The fact CTP inherited problems is neither new nor unique in Indonesia. We can all point to at least 10 examples of such things where the initial developers sold not just their property, but also headaches. Readers are also aware that the expectation of responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the land-owners, regardless of whether they caused the problem or otherwise.

    In fact, blame yourselves for purchasing an estate with social conflicts.

    But, very clearly the examples in RSPO show unequivocally that no matter who caused the problem initially, as an RSPO member CTP is duty bound to address them constructively, and through dialogue. Everyone knows that large multinationals and plantations have multiple layers of managers at plantation level, but as also has been clearly shown in RSPO many times this level of management fails to meet the corporate targets for issues like sustainability.

    So where is the harm in meeting with the villagers?

    I see no relevance in plastering over the problem by saying CTP is a leader in health and safety. This is about CTP’s track record in engagement as well as impact on communities ON THE GROUND!!

    It is shameful and reprehensible that the representative from such a rich multinational like Cargill did not even make time to meet with villagers who were assisted to reach the venue in order to plead their case through civil and constructive, face-to-face dialogue. Other RSPO members did, why didn’t Cargill?

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Transitions… « where adventure and sensuality meet her spirit flourishes
  2. The Understory » Unilever, world’s largest palm oil buyer, shows leadership
  3. The Understory » Kids Tell General Mills: ♥Have a Heart ♥

Leave a Comment Here's Your Chance to Be Heard!

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.