Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The dirty business of palm oil

Nils Klawitter in Spiegel Interntional: ...Bangku is located at the center of Indonesia's Sumatra island. It's a city full of people that have been pushed off their property and has been a flash point for years in one of the country's bloodiest land conflicts. Palm oil is at the center of the dispute. Almost every second product available in today's supermarkets contains the cheap natural resource, which is often labeled as "vegetable oil," masking its true identity. Palm oil can be found in shampoos, but also in margarine, frozen pizzas, ice cream and lipstick.

There are hundreds of conflicts over land with palm oil companies in Indonesia, but Bungku is considered to be one of the worst. The area's forest, which once provided nourishment to those who lived there, fell victim to the giant palm oil plantations of the firm Asiatic Persada in the mid-1980s. In the following years, the company's bulldozers illegally claimed a further 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of rain forest -- an area about half the size of Berlin. Included were areas for which indigenous people's held guaranteed land rights. But they were of little use against the palm oil industry.

On numerous occasions, mercenaries drove out village residents who attempted to return to the "land of our forefathers," as they say. The most recent incident happened only months ago. It's an unequal battle because it essentially pits tribal people against the henchmen of multinational behemoths like Wilmar.

Asia's leading agricultural concern supplies food companies like Anglo-Dutch consumer goods producer Unilever or Swiss multinational Nestlé. And for years Wilmar owned Asiatic Persada.

..."The World Bank also bears some responsibility for the death toll," says Feri Irawan, an environmental activist based in the nearby city of Jambi who has been observing the conflict for years. Irawan says the World Bank long showered Wilmar with loans, in complete disregard for the company's tangle of land conflicts...

A palm oil concession in Riau, Sumatra, shot by Hayden, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

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