Palm oil in food products Part 3: the social impact of the palm oil industry.

17/08/2016 Palm oil and the social impact

Last month we talked about palm oil and its impact on the environment and human health. Today, with the part 3, we closed that argument examining the link between palm the oil industry and its social impact. 

The production of palm oil can result in land grabs, loss of livelihoods and social conflict. The resulting conflicts have had significant impacts on the welfare of many people.

Indigenous peoples’ customary land rights are often not recognized by the state, leading to governments handing over their land to palm oil companies without their knowledge or consent. According to Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago, an Indonesian NGO, indigenous lands cover between 40 and 70 million hectares in Indonesia; however, only 1 million hectares are legally recognized by the government. Villagers have been pushed out of their traditional farming areas; in Borneo, Dayak people who have lived on ancestral forest lands for many generations have been displaced by corporate land grabs.

In 2008, palm oil plantations were responsible for 27% of total deforestation in one district of West Kalimantan, with commercial oil palm concessions covering 59% of community forests, whether legally recognized or not (data source: Without official land titles, indigenous people often get into conflict with companies because of resources, such as wood, from land that traditionally belonged to them. Displacement of rural farmers can lead them to move on to new areas of untouched forest to clear land for farming.

While the global palm oil market creates an opportunity to bring many communities out from poverty, the race for land rights has left many locals on the losing team. Reports of displaced communities and illegal land grabs are not uncommon. The resulting conflicts, loss of income and dependence on large plantations have had a significant impact of the social welfare of many.

Sustainable palm oil trade is possible

The RSPO – Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – was established in 2004 to promote the production and use of sustainable palm oil for people and the planet. The RSPO has become the globally recognized standard for sustainable palm oil. To be RSPO certified, these eight principals must be respected:

  1. Commitment to transparency.
  2. Compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
  3. Commitment to long-term economic and financial viability.
  4. Use of appropriate best practices by growers and millers.
  5. Conservation of natural resources and biodiversity.
  6. Responsible consideration of employees and of individuals and communities affected by growers and mills.
  7. Responsible development of new plantations.
  8. Commitment to continuous improvement in key areas of activity.

Today, the 40% of the world’s palm oil producers are members of the RSPO, as well as many product manufacturers, retailers, environmental and social non-governmental organizations. It means that a sustainable palm oil trade is possible.

Sources: What is sustainable palm oil?  ;   Social impacts

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