Different groups condemn the adverse social and environmental impacts of oil palm plantations in Indonesia on workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, and the environment during a workshop jointly organised by Asia Monitor Resource Centre, WALHI Kalteng, and Sawit Watch in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan on 8-9 August 2015.
For over a century, oil palm plantations in Indonesia have been a source of various problems faced by marginalised rural communities in Indonesia, such as land grabbing and criminalisation of those who fight for their land rights, high military presence in affected areas, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, and flooding and forest fires. Further, they have also become a ground for systematic exploitation as workers inside the plantations suffer from poverty wages, unsafe work, irregular employment status, and strict target system that forces other members of the worker's family to work without pay. In this kind of environment, the working women and children are the most vulnerable.
Indonesia is one of the world’s top producers of crude palm oil (CPO). Based on the data of Sawit Watch, the total land area planted with oil palm in Indonesia already reached 14.3 million hectares in 2014. The Indonesian government does not have any plan to stop the expansion of oil palm plantations as it wants to sustain its position in the palm oil industry globally. Indonesia exports 80 percent of its total CPO production.
According to WALHI Kalteng Director Arie Rompas, "The government's claim that developing and expanding oil palm plantations is the way to economic development should be demystified. What happens on the ground should be documented and exposed."
Meanwhile, the participants acknowledge the need to organise in order to increase their bargaining power against the big oil palm plantation companies that exploit workers while amassing profits. "When the company intimidates, the peasants and the workers should fight back," Ali of Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria emphasised.
With their success stories, some of the participants sharedhow being organised helped them in improving their working conditions, particularly in increasing wages and changing employment status of daily paid workers to regular workers. On the other hand, those who are not organised were urged to explore the possibilities of forming unions in their own workplaces.
However, some of the participants warned that organising should not be limited only to workers inside the plantations who happen to be mostly migrants. Organising should involve the local communities to avoid local-migrant conflicts that are usually instigated by the plantation management.
"It is crucial to build strength in the grassroots and this can be done through organising," Zidane Pall of Sawit Watch said.