Return to Indonesia – full of worry about what happens now

A family with child: Bidin, Ida and son Agung Bidin, Ida and their son Agung

Dec 22, 2011

For two weeks, the rainforest defenders from Sumatra and Borneo have travelled Germany. They have specified to members of the parliament why sustainable palm oil is a lie. In Hamburg, their demonstration in front of the Unilever headquarter building has triggered big media coverage. But the company refused to acknowledge the demands of the activists and the indigenous people. “My heart is full of concern for our family”, Bidin says before his departure.

For two weeks, the rainforest defenders from Sumatra and Borneo have travelled Germany. In Berlin, they have specified to members of the parliament why sustainable palm oil is a lie. In Hamburg, their demonstration in front of the Unilever headquarter building has triggered big media coverage. But the company refused to acknowledge the demands of the activists and the indigenous people. “My heart is full of concern for our family”, Bidin says before his departure.

That is why we in Germany keep up our protest until Unilever and the company’s palm oil supplier Wilmar take responsibility for their products and put an end to the lie of sustainable palm oil. We will continue to put pressure on them until both groups make amends to the affected families in Indonesia and give them back their land – and until our politicians cancel their disastrous fuel blending regulations.

In the middle of the Weser River, Bidin loses his composure. The chief from Sungai Buayan, Sumatra, stands at the rear of the small barge and stares at the huge silos lining the shore. “So this is where the palm oil goes. The palm oil that brings about so much suffering, misery and hunger for us. Big companies like Unilever take everything and get it away from our country to make good money. And we do not get anything out of it.”

Then, Bidin catches sight of the signboard on top of the silos: Wilmar. It’s the name of the world’s biggest palm oil company that operates a huge fat refining plant near Brake on the lower Weser River: Each day, 2.500 tons of oil are processed there. “Every day, we see this sign erected on our land”, Bidin tells us. “‘Do not enter. Property of Asiatic Persada’, it says. This palm oil company belongs to Wilmar. Nine years ago, this company stole woodland that Ida’s and my family has owned in order to establish plantations. The great-great-grandparents of our clan had already owned this piece of land. One thousand durian trees have been planted there by our ancestors”, Bidin goes on. “Their graves are located there. This proves that we have been living there for many generations. Since 1983, we even possess a map and several documents. However, all of this has been of no avail. Wilmar and the other companies cashing in on the palm oil produced on our land have made us beggars.”

Bidin is worried that he cannot pass his legacy on to his children. The knowledge of the forest is his legacy: how to plant trees, how to preserve the woods and how to survive in the wilderness. Another part of it is to understand the language of the apes – how they warn each other of tigers. “Now, there are neither monkeys nor tigers”, Bidin says. “No giant rainforest trees and no fruit-bearing trees. There’s only one tree left: the oil palm in millionfold copies. This is the great tragedy of our people. The young generation knows nothing but palm oil plantations and war-like conditions. That is what we leave to our four children. So how am I supposed to believe in a future?”

Bidin and Ida who could only bring along their little son Agung on their trip to Germany are afraid of what awaits them at home. What happened to their other three children, to their family, to the people living in their devastated village? Are they still alive? Do they have enough food? Will Ida and Bidin be able to return at all – or is their village cordoned off again by the police?

Our partner Feri Irawan is also anxious to go back. His fellow activists in Jambi have been subpoenaed and are going to be interrogated by the police on December 22nd. They will be questioned about alleged occupation of land during Wilmar’s acts of violence against Bidin’s village and two others in August. Feri is concerned that his people will be arrested. “They would go to all lengths to crush our movement”, he says.

Rainforest Rescue has already entered into negotiations with a lawyer from Hamburg. New laws coming into force in 2012 regularise the disclosure of whether human rights are violated and/or nature is destroyed in the making of a product. As a result, Unilever will finally be forced to take full responsibility for the entire production chain of its products.

Along with Robin Wood, we are also going to observe closely whether the Unilever group keeps its verbal promise: Within 30 days, the company will arrange for its supplier Wilmar to rebuild the devastated villages in Sumatra and to make amends to the people. The stipulated period ends on January 14th, 2012.