Unilever Indifferent to Victims of Palm Oil Business

Protesters with a banner from Rainforest Rescue in front of Unilever Protest in front of Unilever on December 14th 2011

Jan 19, 2012

+++ Joint Press Statement from Rettet den Regenwald, Watch Indonesia! and ROBIN WOOD+++

Hamburg, 19 January 2012


*Unilever Indifferent to Victims of Palm Oil Business

* Company breaks its promise and retains Wilmar, its palm oil supplier in Indonesia, regardless of violence and human rights violations.

 

On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the conflict between Unilever's palm oil supplier Wilmar and the local population threatens to escalate. Since last week, those affected held protest demonstrations and other actions to defend themselves once again against land theft and violence by the palm oil concern. The organizations ROBIN WOOD, Rettet den Regenwald and Watch Indonesia! support the resistance of the rainforest activists and palm oil victims. In an open letter to Unilever Executive Director Paul Polman, the organizations accuse Unilever of not following through with reparation payments for victims of land theft by Wilmar, thus breaking earlier promises to do so. They furthermore  demand an immediate stop to Unilever's purchase of palm oil from Wilmar.

On 14 December 2011, Unilever Spokesperson Merlin Koene made a promise to a Sumatran delegation of  indigenous people and human rights advocates. Bidin, a Sumatran aboriginal, stood bare-chested in front of Unilever's headquarters in the port city of Hamburg, Germany, to demonstrate: your palm oil supplier stole our land, destroyed our forest and homes, and had us shot at. It has made us into beggars! Koene looked concerned about the health of the shivering man, took off his own warm jacket, and later promised: “We will contact Wilmar and put pressure on the company to rebuild the destroyed homes, and build them exactly where the people want to live.” After 30 days Unilever would report on the progress of the reconstruction of the destroyed village.

The witnesses to this statement were representatives of the organizations ROBIN WOOD and Rettet den Regenwald, which had invited a delegation of seven Indonesians to Germany. Continuing human rights violations and illegal logging by Wilmar International, the world's largest palm oil concern, were the  background of the visit. Wilmar, with the help of police units, destroyed the village of Sungai Beruang as well as neighbouring settlements which were located within the palm oil plantation, in order to break the inhabitants' resistance to the palm industry. Unilever is one of Wilmar's largest customers and is jointly responsible for the crimes and violations of its supplier.

Unilever broke the promise it made on 14 December 2011. The deadline has expired and not a single village has been rebuilt. On the contrary: for those who lost their land and are now homeless, the situation is getting graver. On 14 and 15 January 2012, police moved the provisionally erected tents which housed Bidin's family clan, detained Bidin and interrogated him. Unilever has delivered no report on the reconstruction of the destroyed settlements and continues to buy palm oil from Wilmar.

Yet the local people will not be intimidated. Their resistance grows. Thousands  of activists from all over Sumatra occupied the plantation of Wilmar's daughter company Asiatic Persada on 10 January. Two days later they gathered for a demonstration in the province of Jambi, to protest with blood-smeared banners against the violence and evictions of Wilmar and the police. “We demand that Unilever immediately cancel its contracts with Wilmar.” Declared activist Feri Irawan, who also took part in the protest in Hamburg. “That is the only language that Wilmar understands.”

 

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For further inquiry:

Christiane Zander, Rettet den Regenwald, Tel. 0170 / 96 66 431, christiane.zander@regenwald.org

Peter Gerhardt, ROBIN WOOD, 01577 / 78 28 825, peter.gerhardt@robinwood.de;

Ute Bertrand, ROBIN WOOD, Tel. 040 / 380 892 22, Ute.Bertrand@robinwood.de;

Marianne Klute, Watch Indonesia!, Tel. 0176 / 245 265 49

More information and photos of the current protests as well as the open letter to Paul Polman can be found at: http://www.rainforest-rescue.org/palmoil