Violence in Indonesia – but Unilever is indifferent to victims of palm oil business

Protesters walk with banners against oil companies Protest against palm oil companies on Sumatra

Jan 20, 2012

On December 14, 2011, Unilever in Hamburg made a pledge to an indigenous Sumatran family: Unilever would ensure that its palm oil supplier, Wilmar, would rebuild the homes it destroyed and compensate the victims within 30 days. The company has not kept its promise. On the contrary – the families are still being bullied.
In an open letter in cooperation with Watch Indonesia! and Robin Wood, we are now calling on Unilever CEO Paul Polman to stop buying palm oil from Wilmar.

On December 14, 2011, Bidin – an indigenous inhabitant of the island of Sumatra – stood in protest with a bare chest in front of Unilever’s headquarters in Hamburg’s HafenCity: “Your palm oil supplier Wilmar stole our land, destroyed our forests and homes, and had its enforcers shoot at us. Wilmar has turned us into beggars!”

Rainforest Rescue (Rettet den Regenwald), Robin Wood and Watch Indonesia! invited Bidin, his family and human rights activists from Indonesia to Germany. They wanted to tell their personal stories of how the people of Indonesia are losing their forests and livelihoods and are being brutally driven from their land for the palm oil that we import. Please see our special page on their visit for more information.


Unilever spokesman Merlin Koene expressed concern about the health of the shivering man, took off his warm jacket, and promised later: “We will contact Wilmar and urge the company to rebuild the destroyed houses – and to do so where the people want to live.” Unilever would report on how the reconstruction of the razed settlements had progressed after 30 days. If no progress had been made, Unilever would rethink its business relationship to Wilmar.

The deadline has passed – and Unilever has broken its promise.

No houses were rebuilt, nor has compensation been paid for stolen land and destroyed property. On the contrary: violence has escalated in the ruined villages, people are being harassed and interrogated by police and company personnel – and they continue to be driven from the land that was stolen from them.

In an open letter, we call on Unilever CEO Paul Polman to finally end his relationship with Wilmar.

We have also informed the press today about Unilever’s empty pledge.

Read the open letter to Unilever here (PDF)

Read the press release dated January 19, 2012 here

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have already donated to our Indonesia relief project. With the money, we were able to provide the extensive Bidin and Ida clans and other palm oil victims with urgently needed food. Your donations also helped many thousands of people from all over Sumatra to occupy the Wilmar plantation and take part in a major demonstration in Jambi. Intense public pressure will be required for the indigenous inhabitants to reach their goal: to move politicians and the palm oil company to finally give back the land that belonged to the natives for many generations. Until then, they must and will fight – and that’s why we ask you for your continued support. Thank you.


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