The Pro-Palm Oil Lobby Getting Caught Lying: Illegal Land Grabbing

The Issue

For decades, investigative journalists have been exposing that illegal land grabbing from Indigenous peoples as a regular occurrence in West Papua, South and Central America, Africa and Asia.

Indigenous people’s land is being forcibly (and often violently) taken from them by predatory palm oil companies. Major supermarket brands and also palm oil producers that are RSPO members are involved in this illegal land-grabbing. They face no repercussions or expulsion from the RSPO for doing this.

The @RSPOtweets and #palmoil lobbyists have lied and denied the illegal #landgrabbing of forest from #indigenous owners for 17 years – by RSPO members. #palmoil #greenwashing #FreeWestPapua Boycott4Wildlife

What the Palm Oil Industry Lobbyists say:

Orangutan Land Trust, the PR arm of the palm oil industry, blatantly lies on behalf of the palm oil industry about about how indigenous people all over the world are having their land illegally taken from them by RSPO members, this includes the biggest retail brands in the world.

What journalists, whistle-blowers and human rights defenders say:

Deforestation in West Papua

RSPO: 14 years of failure to eliminate violence and destruction from the industrial palm oil sector

Friends of the Earth and 100 other human rights and environmental NGOS co-signed this letter in 2018


During its 14 years of existence, RSPO – the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – has failed to live up to its claim of “transforming” the industrial palm oil production sector into a so-called “sustainable” one. In reality, the RSPO has been used by the palm oil industry to greenwash corporate destruction and human rights abuses, while it continues to expand business, forest destruction and profits.

RSPO presents itself to the public with the slogan “transforming the markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm”. Palm oil has become the cheapest vegetable oil available on the global market, making it a popular choice among the group that dominates RSPO membership, big palm oil buyers.

They will do everything to secure a steady flow of cheap palm oil. They also know that the key to the corporate success story of producing “cheap” palm oil is a particular model of industrial production, with ever-increasing efficiency and productivity which in turn is achieved by:

  1. Planting on a large-scale and in monoculture, frequently through conversion of tropical biodiverse forests
  2. Using “high yielding” seedlings that demand large amounts of agrotoxics and abundant water.
  3. Squeezing cheap labour out of the smallest possible work force, employed in precarious conditions so that company costs are cut to a minimum
  4. Making significant up-front money from the tropical timber extracted from concessions, which is then used to finance plantation development or increase corporate profits.
  5. Grabbing land violently from local communities or by means of other arrangements with governments (including favourable tax regimes) to access land at the lowest possible cost.

Those living on the fertile land that the corporations choose to apply their industrial palm oil production model, pay a very high price.

Violence is intrinsic to this model:

  • violence and repression when communities resist the corporate take over of their land because they know that once their land is turned into monoculture oil palm plantations, their livelihoods will be destroyed, their land and forests invaded. In countless cases, deforestation caused by the expansion of this industry, has displaced communities or destroyed community livelihoods where
  • companies violate customary rights and take control of community land;
  • sexual violence and harassment against women in and around the plantations which often stays invisible because women find themselves without possibilities to demand that the perpetrators be prosecuted;
  • Child labour and precarious working conditions that go hand-in-hand with violation of workers’ rights;
  • working conditions can even be so bad as to amount to contemporary forms of slavery. This exploitative model of work grants companies more economic profits while allowing palm oil to remain a cheap product. That is why, neither them or their shareholders do anything to stop it.
  • exposure of workers, entire communities and forests, rivers, water springs, agricultural land and soils to the excessive application of agrotoxics;
  • depriving communities surrounded by industrial oil palm plantations of their food sovereignty when industrial oil palm plantations occupy land that communities need to grow food crops.

RSPO’s proclaimed vision of transforming the industrial oil palm sector is doomed to fail because the Roundtable’s certification principles promote this structural violent and destructive model.

The RSPO also fails to address the industry’s reliance on exclusive control of large and contingent areas of fertile land, as well as the industry’s growth paradigm which demands a continued expansion of corporate control over community land and violent land grabs.

None of RPSO’s eight certification principles suggests transforming this industry reliance on exclusive control over vast areas of land or the growth paradigm inherent to the model.

Industrial use of vegetable oils has doubled in the past 15 years, with palm oil being the cheapest. This massive increase of palm oil use in part explains the current expansion of industrial oil palm plantations, especially in Africa and Latin America, from the year 2000 onward, in addition to the existing vast plantations areas in Malaysia and Indonesia that also continue expanding.

On the ground, countless examples show that industrial oil palm plantations continue to be synonymous to violence and destruction for communities and forests. Communities’ experiences in the new industrial oil palm plantation frontiers, such as Gabon, Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Peru, Honduras, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, are similar to past and ongoing community experiences in Indonesia and Malaysia.

RSPO creates a smokescreen that makes this violence invisible for consumers and financiers. Governments often fail to take regulatory action to stop the expansion of plantations and increasing demand of palm oil; they rely on RSPO to deliver an apparently sustainable flow of palm oil.

For example, in its public propaganda, RSPO claims it supports more than 100,000 small holders. But the profit from palm oil production is still disproportionally appropriated by the oil palm companies: in 2016, 88% of all certified palm oil came from corporate plantations and 99,6% of the production is corporate-controlled.

RSPO also claims that the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is key among its own Principles and Criteria. The right to FPIC implies, among others, that if a community denies the establishment of this monoculture in its territory, operations cannot be carried out. Reality shows us, however, that despite this, many projects go ahead.

Concessions are often guaranteed long before the company reaches out to the affected communities. Under these circumstances, to say that FPIC is central to RSPO is bluntly false and disrespectful.

RSPO also argues that where conflicts with the plantation companies arise, communities can always use its complaint mechanism. However, the mechanism is complex and it rarely solves the problems that communities face and want to resolve.

This becomes particularly apparent in relation to land legacy conflicts where the mechanism is biased against communities. It allows companies to continue exploiting community land until courts have come to a decision. This approach encourages companies to sit out such conflicts and count on court proceedings dragging on, often over decades.

Another argument used by RSPO is that industrial oil palm plantations have lifted millions of people out of poverty. That claim is certainly questionable, even more so considering that there is also an important number of people who have been displaced over the past decades to make space for plantations.

Indigenous communities have in fact lost their fertile land, forests and rivers to oil palm plantations, adversely affecting their food, culture and local economies.

The RSPO promise of “transformation” has turned into a powerful greenwashing tool for corporations in the palm oil industry. RSPO grants this industry, which remains responsible for violent land grabbing, environmental destruction, pollution through excessive use of agrotoxics and destruction of peasant and indigenous livelihoods, a “sustainable” image.

What’s more, RSPO membership seems to suffice for investors and companies to be able to claim that they are “responsible” actors. This greenwash is particularly stunning, since being a member does not guarantee much change on the ground. Only recently, a company became RSPO member after it was found to deforest over 27.000 hectares of rainforest in Papua, Indonesia.

Certification is structurally dependent on the very same policies and regulation that have given rise to the host of environmental devastation and community land rights violations associated with oil palm plantations. These systemic governance issues are part of the destructive economic model, and embedded in state power.

For this reason, voluntary certification schemes cannot provide adequate protection for forests, community rights, food sovereignty and guarantee sustainability. Governments and financiers need to take responsibility to stop the destructive palm oil expansion that violates the rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples.

As immediate steps, governments need to:

  • Put in place a moratorium on palm oil plantations expansion and use that as a breathing space to fix the policy frameworks;
  • Drastically reduce demand for palm oil: stop using food for fuel;
  • Strengthen and respect the rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples to amongst others, self-determination and territorial control.
  • Promote agro-ecology and community control of their forests, which strengthens local incomes, livelihoods and food sovereignty, instead of advancing industrial agro-businesses.


  • Aalamaram-NGOAcción Ecológica, Ecuador
  • ActionAid, France
    Amics arbres
  • Arbres amics
  • Amis de la Terre France
  • ARAARBA (Asociación para la Recuperación del Bosque Autóctono)
  • Asociación Conservacionista YISKI, Costa Rica
    Asociación Gaia El Salvador
  • Association Congo Actif, Paris
  • Association Les Gens du Partage, Carrières-sous-Poissy
  • Association pour le développement des aires protégées, Swizterland
  • Bézu St Eloi
  • Boxberg OT Uhyst
  • Bread for all
  • Bruno Manser Fund
  • CADDECAE, Ecuador
  • Campaign to STOP GE Trees
  • CAP, Center for Advocacy Practices
  • Centar za životnu sredinu/ Friends of the Earth Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • CESTA – FOE El Salvador
  • CETRI – Centre tricontinental
  • Climate Change Kenya
  • Coalición de Tendencia Clasista. (CTC-VZLA)
  • Colectivo de Investigación y Acompañmiento Comunitario
  • Collectif pour la défense des terres malgaches – TANY, Madagascar
  • Community Forest Watch, Nigeria
  • Consumers Association of Penang
  • Corporate Europe Observatory
  • Cuttington University
  • Down to Earth Consult
  • El Campello
  • Environmental Resources Management and Social Issue Centre (ERMSIC) Cameroon
  • Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria
  • FASE ES , Brazil
  • Fédération romande des consommateurs
  • FENEV, (Femmes Environnement nature Entrepreneuriat Vert).
  • Focus on the Global South
  • Forum Ökologie & Papier, Germany
  • Friends of the Earth Ghana
  • Friends of the Earth International
  • GE Free NZ, New Zealand
  • Global Alliance against REDD
  • Global Justice Ecology Project
  • Global Info
  • Gobierno Territorial Autónomo de la Nación Wampís , Peru
  • Green Development Advocates (GDA)
  • CameroonGreystones, Ireland
  • Groupe International de Travail pour les Peuples Autochtones
    Grupo ETC
  • Grupo Guayubira, Uruguay
  • Instituto Mexicano de Gobernanza Medioambiental AC Instituto Mexicano de Gobernanza Medioambiental AC
  • Integrated Program for the Development of the Pygmy People (PIDP), DRC
  • Justica Ambiental
  • Justicia Paz e Integridad de la Creacion. Costa Rica
  • Kempityari
  • Latin Ambiente,
  • Les gens du partage
  • Maderas del Pueblo del Sureste, AC
  • Maiouri nature, Guyane
  • Mangrove Action Project
  • Milieudefensie – Friends of the Earth Netherlands
  • Movimento Amigos da Rua Gonçalo de Carvalho
  • Muyissi Environnement, Gabon
  • Nature-d-congo de la République du Congo
  • New Wind Association from Finland
  • NOAH-Friends of the Earth Denmark
  • Oakland Institute
  • OFRANEH, Honduras
  • Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (OLSSI)
  • ONG OCEAN : Organisation Congolaise des Ecologistes et Amis de la Nature et sommes basés en RD Congo.
  • OPIROMA, Brazil
  • Otros Mundos A.C./Amigos de la Tierra México
  • Paramo Guerrrero Zipaquira
  • Quercus – ANCN, Portugal
  • Radd (Reseau des Acteurs du Développement Durable) , Cameroon
  • Rainforest Foundation UK
  • Rainforest Relief
  • ReAct – Alliances Transnationales
  • RECOMA – Red latinoamericana contra los monocultivos de árboles
  • Red de Coordinacion en Biodiversidad , Çosta Rica
  • REFEB-Cote d’Ivoire
  • Rettet den Regenwald, Germany
  • Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia)
  • Salva la Selva
  • School of Democratic Economics, Indonesia
  • Serendipalm Company Limited
  • Sherpa , The Netherlands
  • SYNAPARCAM, Cameroon
  • The Corner House, UK
    Towards Equitable Sustainable Holistic Development
    University of Sussex, UK
  • UTB ColombiaWatch Indonesia!
    World Rainforest Movement
  • Youth Volunteers for the Environment Ghana

Reports: human rights and land rights violations, violence and indigenous land-grabbing by RSPO members

Burning Questions – Credibility of sustainable palm oil still illusive - EIA
Burning Questions – Credibility of sustainable palm oil still illusive – Environmental Investigation Agency (2021)
Dying for a cookie: How Mondelez's Dirty Palm Oil is feeding the climate and extinction crisis by Greenpeace (2019)
Dying for a cookie: How Mondelez’s Dirty Palm Oil is feeding the climate and extinction crisis by Greenpeace (2019)
Who Watches the Watchmen Part 2: The continuing incompetence of the RSPO’s assurance systems (2019)
The RSPO: 14 Years of Failure by Friends of the Earth International and Co-signed by 100 Indigenous and Human Rights Organisations (2014)
The RSPO: 14 Years of Failure by Friends of the Earth International and Co-signed by 100 Indigenous and Human Rights Organisations (2014)
Destruction Certified by Greenpeace 2021
Destruction Certified by Greenpeace (2021)
Trading Risks ADM and Bunge and failing land and environmental rights defenders in Indonesia (2021)
Keep the Forests Standing: Exposing Brands and Banks Driving Deforestation. Rainforest Action Network (2021)
Who Watches the Watchmen Part 2: The continuing incompetence of the RSPO’s assurance systems (2019)
License to Clear Dark Side of Permitting in West Papua by Greenpeace (2021)
License to Clear Dark Side of Permitting in West Papua by Greenpeace (2021)
FMCG’s Zero-Deforestation Challenges and Growing Exposure to Reputational Risk. Chain Reaction Research (2020)
Plantation Life Corporate Occupation in Indonesia's Oil Palm Zone (2021)
Plantation Life Corporate Occupation in Indonesia’s Oil Palm Zone (2021)

Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up In Everything and Endangered the World by Jocelyn Zuckerman (2021)
Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up In Everything and Endangered the World by Jocelyn Zuckerman (2021)
Rethinking Dayak Identity Dr Setia Budhi
Rethinking Dayak Identity Dr Setia Budhi
Adina Renner, Conradin Zellweger, Barnaby Skinner. ‘Is there such a thing as sustainable palm oil? Satellite images show protected rainforest on fire’. (May 2021)
Adina Renner, Conradin Zellweger, Barnaby Skinner. ‘Is there such a thing as sustainable palm oil? Satellite images show protected rainforest on fire’. (May 2021)

RSPO members: Nestle, Wilmar, PepsiCo and Unilever continue to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses on their palm oil plantations, Gecko Project, TUK Indonesia, Pusaka, Walhi, and Forest Peoples Programme, 2021.

Semunying, Palm Oil Conflict in Indonesia, Nanang Sujana, 2020.

New investigation in the Amazon documents impact of palm oil plantations on Indigenous communities Mongabay Newscast

Palm oil plantations look likely to become a new cause of deforestation and pollution across the Amazon: though companies say their supply chains are green and sustainable, critics in Brazil–including scientists & federal prosecutors–cite deforestation, chemical pollution, and human rights violations.   Mongabay's Rio-based editor Karla Mendes investigated one such project in Para State and joins us to discuss the findings of her new report, Déjà vu as palm oil industry brings deforestation, pollution to Amazon.   Beside the health toll of chemical sprays on Indigenous people whose land it encroaches, Mendes studied satellite imagery to disprove claims that the company only plants on land that's already been deforested.   Also joining the show are a scientist who's documented contamination of water sources and related health impacts, Sandra Damiani from the University of Brasília, plus a federal prosecutor in the Amazon region, Felício Pontes Júnior, who is trying to hold palm oil companies accountable for polluting Indigenous communities.     Palm oil is used in a huge array of consumer goods sold in most countries–from snacks to ice cream & shampoo—and is a main cause of rainforest loss in Africa and Southeast Asia. Now, the industry sees the Amazon as prime new ground.    Episode artwork: Fresh palm oil fruit, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Nanang Sujana for CIFOR. Please invite your friends to subscribe to the Mongabay Newscast wherever they get podcasts, or download our free app in the Apple App Store or in the Google Store to have access to our latest episodes at your fingertips. If you enjoy the Newscast, please visit to pledge a dollar or more to keep the show growing, Mongabay is a nonproft media outlet and all support helps! Supporting at the $10/month level now delivers access to Insider Content at, too, please visit the link above for details. See all our latest news from nature's frontline at Mongabay's homepage: or find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by searching for @mongabay. Feedback is always welcome:

Ferrero’s Dirty Secret, The Sum of Us, 2021

Study maps 187 land conflicts as palm oil expands in Kalimantan, Mongabay, 2016.

Revealed: Government officials say permits for palm oil mega-plantation in Papua were falsified Gecko Project, 2019

Land-grabbing of communities’ forest lands by Wilmar International in Cross River State, Nigeria. Environmental Justice Atlas, 2019.

Licence to clear: The dark side of permitting in West Papua, Greenpeace, 2021.

Indonesian court jails indigenous farmers for ‘stealing’ from land they claim, Mongabay, 2020.

EIA releases footage of indigenous forest threatened by palm oil firm. Environmental Investigation Agency, 2015.

How land grabbers weaponise indigenous ritual against Papuans: An interview with anthropologist Sophie Chao, Gecko Project, 2018

FSC dumps palm oil giant Korindo amid rights, environmental issues in Papua, Mongabay, 2021

Top brands failing to spot rights abuses on Indonesian oil palm plantations, Mongabay, 2021.

The secret deal to destroy paradise. Nanang Sujana and Gecko Project, 2018

Papua tribe moves to block clearing of its ancestral forest for palm oil, Mongabay, 2021.

Palm oil, cocoa and gangs close in on Colombia’s Indigenous Nukak Makú, Mongabay, 2020.

Ecuador Indigenous accuse state of crimes against humanity, Mongabay, 2020.

‘They took it over by force’: Corruption and palm oil in Sierra Leone, Mongabay, 2020

The Hungry Mills: How palm oil mills drive deforestation (commentary), Mongabay 2021.

Video: Communities struggle against palm oil plantations spreading in Brazilian Amazon, Mongabay, 2021.

Who are the palm oil lobbyists?

They are a small group of people including Jane Griffiths, Michele Desilets, Bart Van Essen who work or volunteer for an organisation called Orangutan Land Trust.

Orangutan Land Trust and the PONGO Alliance are the engine behind the greenwashing for the palm oil industry’s Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The scientific advisory board of Orangutan Land Trust is made up of scientists who consistently produce pro-palm oil research papers that are funded by the palm oil industry.

The RSPO was set up 17 years ago by the WWF along with global palm oil companies themselves in order to monitor and regulate their own actions and to supposedly stop deforestation and ecocide.

RSPO members include the world’s biggest food companies: Nestle, Unilever, Cargill, L’Oreal, Danone, Kelloggs, Pepsi, Coca Cola, Mondelez, Johnson & Johnson, PZ Cussons, Ferrero and more. Since it was created in 2004, these RSPO members have been embroiled in greenwashing, corruption, illegal land-grabbing from indigenous peoples, the killing of wildlife, human rights abuses and 100,000’s of hectares of deforestation. Yet these members faced no expulsion from the RSPO and they faced no punishment at all for their actions, despite this going against the rules of the RSPO. The corruption and greenwashing of this industry knows no bounds!

Brands Using Deforestation Palm Oil in their Products

Brands Using Deforestation Palm Oil in their Products

These brands have products that contain palm oil sourced from mills that are responsible for the destruction of precious habitats of endangered species. Just in 2020 alone, these brands (along with many others) contributed to the destruction of 38,000ha of rainforest in Indonesia, SE Asia and Papua New Guinea. Therefore, these brands are directly involved in the extinction of species.

Defend lands belonging to Indigenous peoples and fight illegal land-grabbing

#Boycottpalmoil in the supermarket #Boycott4Indigenous and #Boycott4Wildlife

Published by Palm Oil Detectives

Hi, I’m Palm Oil Detective’s Editor in Chief. Palm Oil Detectives is partly a consumer website about palm oil in products and partly an online community for writers, artists and musicians to showcase their work and express their love for endangered species. I have a strong voice for creatures great and small threatened by deforestation. With our collective power we can shift the greed of the retail industry and influence big palm oil to stop cutting down forests. Be bold! Be courageous! Join me and stand up for the animals with your art and your supermarket choices

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