Indonesia: terror and eviction for palm oil

An indigenous woman stands in shock in front of her demolished house A shattered village community (© Feri Irawan)
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The consequences of soaring demand for palm oil for biodiesel are becoming increasingly brutal: 1,500 armed men demolished four indigenous settlements in Indonesia and displaced inhabitants who were not willing to surrender their land to a palm oil company. Please call on the EU stop imports of palm and soybean oil.

Call to action

To: The EU, the governments of the EU Member States and Neste Oil

“The EU and the governments of its Member States must abolish the mandatory blending of biofuels and prohibit imports of tropical vegetable oils immediately.”

Read letter

“On the morning of December 11, I heard men rattling my door,” said Basron, a 41-year-old resident of the Pinang Tinggi settlement. He then found himself confronted by an armed troop of soldiers, police officers, staff of the PT Asiatic Persada palm oil company and hired thugs.

“These houses are all slated for eviction and demolition today,” one of the men said. A little later, Basron watched as a bulldozer reduced his hut to splinters.

In Jambi Province in Sumatra, a total of 1,500 men descended on the helpless indigenous Suku Anak Dalam and evicted them from their huts. At least 296 houses in four villages were looted and demolished in early December 2013.

For almost three decades, Asiatic Persada has been persecuting the forest dwellers – in 1986, the company started to cut down their rainforest for plantations. Yet the people stood firm – until December 2013.

Vast rainforest areas are being cleared for new palm oil plantations in response to the EU’s agrofuel policy. Palm oil imports from the tropics are soaring to meet growing demand for biodiesel: 2.5 million tons were imported in the first half of 2013 – a 63 percent increase over the same period the previous year.

The most important producer of palm-oil biodiesel is Neste Oil Corporation. The Finnish government maintains a 51% controlling interest in the company, which operates the world’s largest biodiesel refineries in Singapore and Rotterdam, each with an annual capacity of one billion liters.

Please call on the EU and the governments of its member countries to stop the mandatory blending of biofuels and abolish imports of tropical vegetable oils.


Neste Oil and Wilmar

Neste Oil is the largest European producer of biodiesel from palm oil. The Finnish government maintains controlling interest in the company, which caters to the European market by operating the world’s largest biodiesel refineries in Singapore and Rotterdam. Both plants have an annual production capacity of 1 billion liters. More than half of the biodiesel produced is based on palm oil, which Neste purchases from Wilmar, a certified palm oil company in Singapore.

Wilmar, in turn, was the owner of PT Asiatic Persada, a palm oil company in Jambi on Sumatra, until last spring. Asiatic Persada was sold to the Ganda Group, a company owned by the brother of Wilmar founder Martua Sitorus, but it continues to sell its palm oil to Wilmar.

Further information:
please visit our palm oil and biofuel information pages. 

Mongabay: Indonesian palm oil company demolishes homes and evicts villagers in week-long raid

Statement by the Indonesian environmental network WALHI: Wilmar's No Deforestation policy tested by latest abuses by PT Asiatic Persada


To: The EU, the governments of the EU Member States and Neste Oil

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our increasing demand for palm oil for biodiesel is destroying rainforests and human lives. In early December, armed thugs working for Asiatic Persada, police officers and soldiers – a total of 1,500 men – launched several attacks on the indigenous population of four settlements in the Indonesian province of Jambi on Sumatra.

The marauders demolished 300 homes and brutally evicted the men, women and children living there. The reason: PT Asiatic Persada did not intend to return the land it had grabbed from the Suku Anak Dalam and cleared – even though the authorities had repeatedly ordered the palm oil company to do so.

With its biofuels policy, the EU and its Member States are promoting the expropriation of land and deforestation. Palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil on the world market, and European biodiesel producers using it to an increasing degree – especially the Finnish state-owned Neste Oil Corporation. Palm oil imports from the tropics are soaring to meet increasing agrofuel blending quotas: 2.5 million tons were imported in the first half of 2013 – a 63 percent increase over the same period last year.

We call on the EU and the governments of its Member States to abolish the mandatory blending of biofuels and imports of tropical vegetable oils immediately.



The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.

Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.

The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc

The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.

As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.

Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:

  1. Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  2. Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  3. Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
  4. Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  5. Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
  6. Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
  7. Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!