(source person: Norman Jiwan)
1. Why did Sawit Watch choose to join the RSPO rather than use other means to achieve its objectives? How was it approached to join the RSPO, and who by? RSPO adopts, promotes and encourages sustainability of the palm oil sector that is consistent with one of social justice mandates for smallholders farmers, labourers, indigenous peoples and local communities severely affected by the palm oil sector. In 2004, Sawit Watch voluntarily decided to join RSPO as one of strategic tools in promoting responsible sustainable palm oil.
2. In Sawit Watch’s experience, what has the been response of the multinational companies in the RSPO to the proposals of the NGO members, in general, and to Sawit Watch’s, in particular? Multinational companies response vary but largely reactive and responsive instead of taking proactice and constructive to NGO proposals, for example, proposals on indicator for greenhouse gas emissions, new planting procedures, complaints/grievances, etc. Sawit Watch has been critical about human rights violations, labour and social issues seen as playing black and negative campaigns against palm oil industry.
3. What kind of relationship exists between NGOs such as Sawit Watch and, vertically integrated multinationals that have (among other things) their own plantations, such as Wilmar? With Social and Environmental NGOs, Sawit Watch establishes communication and direct collaboration on cross-cutting issues. With private sector, Sawit Watch takes an independent, transparent and responsible critical engagement and open dialogue with RSPO ordinary members in promoting human rights and conflict resolution in palm oil sector. Sawit Watch provides no consulting advises and professional services to private sector.
4. How many – and how well – are smallholders are represented on the RSPO, versus the multinational plantation owners and mills? What have been the challenges? (Please feel free to elaborate.) Smallholder oil palm farmers are at the moment represented under grower category of membership. Smallholder seat is occupied by FELDA, Malaysian smallholders organisation body. An independent representative is much needed in bringing voices and aspirations of independent smallholder famers union better. In 2010, RSPO grower members from Malaysia, Indonesia and PNG had succeeded in bringing their schemed smallholders up to achieve certifications oil palm plantations. These schemed smallholders certification benefited 25000 smallholher farmers. Indeed, this is a breakthrough but RSPO needs to mobilise more smallholders certifications and inclusive empowerment programmes.
5. In terms of economies of scale, smallholders cannot compete on price with large plantations. Is it possible for smallholders of cash crops to be paid a fair price for their produce given this fact? Yes, it is possible. In practice, the fact is that large plantations and smallholders are both FFB producers but it is not fair to compare them without dealing with political economy side of pricing factor. A fair price implies not only economic consideration but also political commitment that saves smallholder farmers from discriminatory traditional existing pricing provision largely determined by production factor and unilaterally adopted government’s pricing regulation.
6. Sawit Watch seeks to secure “land rights and sustain traditional community (adat) laws through conflict resolution and lobbying government at the national and local level for land reform and community sovereignty over natural resource management.”
a. How is it possible to initiate land reform through the RSPO, which essentially relies on non-legally binding self-regulation? You need to start somewhere you find out commitment to sustainability. RSPO standards, if consistently implemented, best practices and better operations consistent and persistent with international norms and values that must uphold business activities in a culturally appropriate, socially acceptable, and environmentally friendly outcomes/impacts can be useful precedent for domestic and national legislation development.
b. Similarly, how effective can any dispute resolution mechanism be, in the absence of legal enforcement? Mechanism could be effective when genuince commitment is present to recognise, resolve, and mitigate absence of legal enforcement in dispute. It is not about ‘do no harm’ only when it is required by law but do it right whether or not legal enforcement exist. Non-performing in the absence of legal enforcement is equal to do nothing to prevent and/or resolve dispute e.g. land claims, labour disputes, conflict, etc.
7. One of Sawit Watch’s goals is “to assist communities in developing or maintaining economically, socially and ecologically sustainable land/forest management.” What does Sawit Watch see as the future for palm oil smallholders? Price and market is uncertain. Smallholder farmers do not have control to price and market of their own FFB. Their participation is used to only consolidate land and mobilise labour force to produce FFB. Therefore, the future of smallholder farmers is questionable (if not uncertain) not only at replanting period due to lacking access to financial and necessary services but also, in an extreme situation, when agricultural land already planted with monoculture oil palm plantation, and there is no more agricultural land left for food and alternatives. It seems that they must make a choice: as participants in the global economy, they themselves try to become rich and play their roles as consumers; or they try keep their local ways of life. How has the palm oil industry in fact benefitted smallholders? They make incomes from selling fresh fruit bunches (FFB) harvested twice a month at normal season but if rainy season, muddy and broken, lack-infrastructure, ill-maintained roads make harvesting is difficult in terms of plantation maintenance, transportation and working loads. They sell their FFB either directly to cooperative or indirectly through intermediary parties who then sell FFB to nearby mill(s).