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Every day, we discover more and more about how bad the palm oil industry is for the environment, animals and now people. Palm oil plantations have been responsible for some destructive impacts, including threatening tigers and orangutans. In the past, we have even seen individual reports of palm oil plantations clearing land illegally. However, a new report recently released by the Forest People’s Programme and other partners shows the palm oil industry as a whole has been taking advantage of communities across the globe. The report titled “Conflict or Consent? The oil palm sector at a crossroads,” examines cases where  palm oil plantations have infringed on the rights of communities all across the tropics.

The report documents the growing exploitation of communities and people by the industry. Focusing on the principle of international law, the report states that indigenous people have the collective rights of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), especially when it comes to land grabs by palm oil plantations. Some of the exploits include land conflicts, pesticide poisoning, food shortages, and denial of the rights of indigenous peoples. The report presents 16 case studies from the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Liberia, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report clearly illustrates a lack of transparency in many cases as well as a flawed legal structure. Many cases show a lack of information given to local communities and a lack of compensation for their land. When these cases are brought to the legal system they are too often dismissed due to an inadequate bias toward development.

At the center of this international problem is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as many of their members have committed these very violations against communities. Ironically, the roundtable is an organization that looks to make the palm oil industry sustainable and they claim to monitor environmental and social impacts of the industry.

In response to the report, RSPO told Thomson Reuters Foundation, “The RSPO acknowledges it is not a perfect solution, but it is a solution nevertheless.”

“Conflict or Consent” offers up a number of recommendations to stop the palm oil industry from taking advantage of indigenous peoples and communities. Mostly, it is a systematic and procedural approach that needs to be changed from local government to international organization. Loop holes and a lack of recognition has been a main part in indigenous people losing land. Another recommendation is to provide sufficient information to all parties involved. By following the FPIC, many communities should be given the information and compensation they deserve if their land is going to be taken over by a palm oil plantation.

Ultimately, even consumers need to be responsible for choosing palm oil grown in a sustainable, legal way. As consumers, we need to be aware of where all of our products come from and the possible problems it causes to other communities. It is time to hold the palm oil industry and other big industries accountable for their actions. They need to not colonize an area for its resources but join the community instead. Hopefully the “Conflict or Consent” report will bring us one step closer to this balance.

 Image Source: Wikimedia Commons