HomeConsum-actorsBBC Indonesia. Voice to the natives robbed to produce palm oil

BBC Indonesia. Voice to the natives robbed to produce palm oil

A BBC documentary offers data and direct testimony on the land grabbing, that is, the robbery of land stolen from the indigenous people of Sumatra and Borneo, Indonesia, to produce palm oil. (1)

The responsibility lies with the palmocrats and their large industrial customers who hide unacceptable violations of human rights and the environment behind the screen of the greenwashing.

Truly responsible operators and consumers can, however, force their suppliers to change the rules of the game, with a radical choice to be pursued methodically. Buycott. Here's why and how.

Palm oil in Indonesia, 25 years of budget

The question palm oil international has exploded over the past 25 years. No other commodity it is so versatile and profitable for the Corporation producing food, cosmetics and 'biofuels'. At the price of devastating primary forests - in Indonesia and Malaysia, the first producers, as in Central Africa and Latin America - after having driven out the inhabitants with violence, fires and water poisoning. (2)

Intensive monocultures palm oil, as we have seen, (3) postulate the systematic removal of spontaneous vegetation (also through fires) and the massive use of broad spectrum neurotoxic herbicides (eg. paraquat) that pollute soils and waters. Local communities have thus been left entirely without the ability to derive food from nature. Without participating in any way in the 'development' falsely promised by the palmocrats.

BBC Indonesia, the documentary

with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) participated in the surveys on the palm oil supply chain in Indonesia, carried out in recent years by the NGOs Mongabay and The Gecko Project. A 30-minute documentary summarizes the story of the abomination and ecocide. (4) A particularly painful story also for the writer that he had the joy of being hosted by these tribes, in 1991, in the then dense mountain jungles of central Sumatra.



The Orang Rimba - whose name has a common root with orangutan, precisely because the primates were very present in that area - they guarded their ancestral lands days of walking away from roads and electricity grids. The tiny tribes lived on stilts, encamped on invisible clearings surrounded by greenery, next to the waterways. Their life was marked by the rhythms of nature, from dawn to dusk. And interactions with external 'civilization' were rare.

Stolen lands and devastation

The Salim group, in the 90s, he promised the indigenous people 'wealth' and 'development'. He would take control of the ancestral land to convert it and produce palm oil, 'a wonderful crop that is increasingly in demand all over the world'. The tribes would have kept 'more than half'of the plantations, to then sell the harvested fruit back to the company. Manothing has been returned to us. They took it all'explains young Mat Yadi. Today his family lives in a makeshift hut, near a plantation poisoned by agro-toxicants.

'Before, there were many pigs, deer, antelope and hedgehogs. Now there is hardly anything alive'. The elderly Siti Maninah, like many other Orang Rimba, earns her living by picking the fruit that remains on the ground after the oil palms have been taken away. The crumbs of their land.
If lucky, she gathers enough to buy a few grams of rice and some vegetables to feed her family for the day. 'That's enough, but it's not much '. A euphemism for those who lived by harvesting rubber and delicious fruit, as well as hunting.

The 'plasma' denied

The palmocratsBBC explains, they have often promised to share their plantations with villagers, reserving plots known as 'plasma' for them. In order to gain local support and access to government funding. In 2007, an Indonesian law introduced a requirement for companies to hand over one fifth of each new palm oil plantation to communities. To help rural communities out of poverty by giving them the opportunity to participate in an industry worth over $ 65 billion / year globally. Indonesia and Malaysia in the lead (> 80%. See note 5).

The natives o Aborigines have been violently robbed or converted by deception by the palm oil oligarchs, in the whole area of ​​the Indonesian peninsula up to Borneo (6,7). As well as in neighboring Malaysia. (8) The investigation by BBC, The Gecko Project and Mongabay reveals how - in the central province of Kalimantan (Borneo) alone, where 20% of the country's plantations are located - over 100.000 hectares of legally prescribed 'plasma' has been denied to local communities. For a value of approximately 90 million dollars / year, to multiply by 5 on a national scale, according to conservative estimates of profits from palm oil.

Violent crackdown on protests

Every month over the past six years there have been protests for the return of the 'plasma' to indigenous people and local communities. But the state in the service of the palmocrats is decisive and quick in the violent repression of the protests. In 2015, local politicians brokered an agreement between the Orang Rimba and the Salim Group which, after two decades, made a written commitment to return the stolen lands to produce palm oil. But that hasn't happened yet.

'This is just one example, it is happening everywhere. The oligarchs [of palm oil] are greedy'(Daniel Johan, Indonesian parliamentarian).

Tribe members they occupied the plantation and the company reacted by demolishing their huts. And atescalation the protest of the villagers was followed by the arrest of over 45 people by the police. 'Without being questioned, we were beaten to death'. Seven convictions for vandalism to 18 months in prison, impunity for the Salim group and its subsidiary that control the plantation and refused to be interviewed.

Corporation steal everything. The BBC complaint

British state television celebrates a century of history this year with a vibrant denunciation of Corporation responsible for violence and ecocide but also for stealing income of hundreds of millions of dollars / year from indigenous communities. Quoting the giants of Big food - Kellogg's, Mondelez, without forgetting PepsiCo, Nestlé and Ferrero among others - but also the giants of food service (KFC, McDonald's), cosmetics and personal care (L'Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive, Reckitt), chemistry (BASF, Dupont). (9,10)

The Indonesian billionaires palm oil producers are at the top of Forbes' list of the super rich. The Widjaja family that controls Golden Agri-Resources (> 500k ha of plantations) is in second place and Anthoni Salim, managing director of the Salim Group, in third place.
But to them say the return of 'plasma' to the natives is economically unsustainable. And under the palm trees, in the BBC video, an Orang Rimba elder sings a popular song from the chorus'our heart is rich if our grandchildren are healthy '. ‘In order for our grandchildren to truly live again, we want our ancestral land back to us'explains old Cilin. 'That's all we want'.

EU-Indonesia, free trade and toxic treaty on the way

Exports global palm oil from Indonesia resumed in late May, after a temporary freeze that resulted in skyrocketing prices and profits for its producers. The EU-Indonesia trade balance is in dramatic negative growth, -5,1 billion euros in 2020 on trade in goods, mainly due to imports of this unsustainable fat. (11) Which is remembered to be used, for about half of the volumes, in the production of 'biofuels' and thermoelectric energy.

The negotiations for a toxic free trade agreement initiated by the Juncker Commission meanwhile continue. (12) On the eleventh round which was held online, on 8-12.11.2021, a technical agreement seems to have been reached on Sanitary and Phytosanitary matters (SPS). Obviously without referring to anything other than sterile chatter on the subject of Trade and Sustainable Development. (13) Palm oil will thus benefit from subsidies on customs dutiesimport, without conditions pending the specific regulation on due diligence ESG (14,15).


Self-referential certifications (eg RSPO) of hypothetical 'sustainability' of palm oil have proved to be completely unreliable, as amply demonstrated in a series of independent scientific studies (16,17). While there have been more than 150 documented land conflicts in recent years, on hundreds of thousands of hectares of plantations.

The only option for responsible operators and consumers it is strictly necessary to abstain from the use and consumption of palm oil, its derivatives and products that contain it. And #Buycott is simple, just follow and promote the tips we've already shared, from farm to fork. (18)

Dario Dongo


(1) Muhammad Irham, Astudestra Ajengrastri and Aghnia Adzkia. Palm oil firms depriving tribes of millions of dollars. BBC NewsIndonesia. 23.5.22. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-61509744.amp

(2) Dario Dongo, Elena Bosani. Land robberies, palm oil top the list. Risks due diligence, ESG. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 21.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/rapine-delle-terre-olio-di-palma-in-cima-alla-lista-i-rischi-due-diligence-esg

(3) See paragraph 'What 'palm' means for the environment, indigenous communities and small farmers'in the previous article Palm oil, Philippine reportage https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/olio-di-palma-reportage-filippine

(4) Watch the BBC documentary based on our joint 'plasma' investigation. The Gecko Project. 30.5.22, https://thegeckoproject.org/articles/watch-bbc-news-indonesia-s-documentary-based-on-our-joint-plasma-investigation/

(5) Dario Dongo. Palm oil. Indonesia and Malaysia withhold data and threaten Europe. #Buycott! GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 18.8.19/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/sicurezza/olio-di-palma-indonesia-e-malesia-nascondono-i-dati-e-minacciano-l-europa-buycott

(6) Dario Dongo. Palma, Malaysia and the conversion of the Aborigines. Buycott! GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 13.10.19/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/palma-malesia-e-conversione-degli-aborigeni-buycott

(7) Dario Dongo. Borneo on fire for palm oil, the CNN report. Buycott! GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 11.12.19/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/borneo-in-fiamme-per-l-olio-di-palma-il-report-cnn-buycott

(8) Dario Dongo. Malaysia, palm oil. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.10.17/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/malesia-olio-di-palma

(9) Dario Dongo. Palm oil in foods, where it is found and how to avoid it. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 8.10.20/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/olio-di-palma-nei-cibi-dove-si-trova-e-come-evitarlo

(10) Martha Strinati. USA, Girl Scouts against Ferrero cookies. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.1.21/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/usa-le-girl-scout-contro-i-biscotti-ferrero

(11) European Commission. EU trade relations with Indonesia. Facts, figures and latest developments. https://policy.trade.ec.europa.eu/eu-trade-relationships-country-and-region/countries-and-regions/indonesia_en

(12) Dario Dongo. Palm oil, out of the EU-Indonesia agreement! Petition. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.5.18/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/olio-di-palma-fuori-dall-accordo-ue-indonesia-petizione

(13) European Commission. Report of the 11th round of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Indonesia, 8-12.11.21. https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2021/november/tradoc_159945.pdf

(14) FERN. Fears the EU - Indonesia trade agreement won't learn from mistakes of the past. 13.10.21, https://www.fern.org/publications-insight/fears-the-eu-indonesia-trade-agreement-wont-learn-from-mistakes-of-the-past-2392/

(15) Dario Dongo. Due diligence and deforestation, stop imports of unsustainable commodities. Proposal for an EU regulation, the ABC. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 6.3.22/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/due-diligence-e-deforestazioni-stop-alle-importazioni-di-derrate-insostenibili-proposta-di-regolamento-ue-l-abc

(16) Hans Nicholas Jong. RSPO fails to deliver on environmental and social sustainability, study finds. mongabay. 11.7.18, https://news.mongabay.com/2018/07/rspo-fails-to-deliver-on-environmental-and-social-sustainability-study-finds/

(17) Dario Dongo. Indonesia, fires and RSPO certified palm oil. Greenpeace report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.11.19/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/indonesia-incendi-e-olio-di-palma-certificato-rspo-rapporto-greenpeace

(18) Dario Dongo. Good intentions. Living without palm oil, instructions for use. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.12.20/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/buoni-propositi-vivere-senza-olio-di-palma-istruzioni-per-l-uso

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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