Groups, communities decry “one-sided” investigation into allegations of land grabbing, environmental pollution and criminalization of environmental human rights defenders
JAKARTA/WASHINGTON - Today, Indonesia’s second largest palm oil company Astra Agro Lestari (AAL) and Eco Nusantara planned to hosta kick off meeting for their flawed investigation into the company’s environmental and human rights violations in Central and West Sulawesi, Indonesia, despite repeated concerns from environmental groups and impacted communities. WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) refused to attend the kick-off meeting, which was subsequently canceled.
The scheduled meeting comes after AAL published a “progress update” on its website stating that it is in communication with Friends of the Earth US and received buy-in from Walhi on its investigation. In actuality, Friends of the Earth US has consistently stated that the substance and process of the investigation–unilaterally dictated by AAL and its consultants–is insufficient and problematic, while Walhi has not agreed to the investigation’s terms or framing.
AAL and Eco Nusantara also incorrectly claimed that Walhi was participating in the investigation’s kick-off meeting on May 25. Walhi rejects this characterization and the current investigation, reiterating that AAL must return land back to communities taken without their consent, issue a public apology, provide compensation for loss of lands and livelihoods, and conduct environmental restoration based on facts of the case that have emerged over the past year.
“We continue to call on AAL to act on the evidence in the public domain to provide remedy to those that have lost their lands and livelihoods due to the company’s operations,” said Aulia Hakim, Lead Campaigner at Walhi Central Sulawesi.
“Communities have made it clear that they are not interested in endless, one-sided investigations,” said Uli Arta, Forest and Plantation Campaigner at Walhi. “AAL must commit to returning land back to farmers and communities that has been taken without their consent. This is a necessary starting point to end protracted conflicts that have plagued the company’s operations in Sulawesi for decades.”
AAL first announced its new investigation in March 2023, after nine consumer goods companies suspended palm oil sourcing in some capacity from AAL and its subsidiaries due to mounting evidence of land grabbing, pollution of community water sources, and criminalization of community leaders and environmental human rights defenders. 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 investigation and publicly responded to the announcement.
The cascade of suspensions from consumer goods companies followed a March 2022 report detailing environmental and human rights violations by AAL and its subsidiaries and an August 2022 verification report by Eco Nusantara following its own investigation into the documented allegations.
“If companies insist on further investigation, it should focus on AAL providing proof that it obtained the free, prior, informed consent of communities to operate on their lands,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Program Manager at Friends of the Earth US. “We have yet to see documentation that AAL conducted proper environmental and social impact assessments or evidence that its subsidiaries acquired proper permits in compliance with Indonesian law. Investigations should examine AAL’s role in the intimidation and criminalization of community leaders. Rights holders on the frontlines of AAL’s destructive operations are tired of fruitless investigations, especially when they’re not given the opportunity to inform the process, or agree to its terms.”
Walhi and allied Friends of the Earth groups are currently reviewing the terms of investigation provided and will share their analysis of shortcomings and gaps in the near future.