Promise, Divide, Intimidate and Coerce: 12 tactics used by palm oil companies intent on land-grabbing

Landgrabbing for palm oil human rights - Grain and WRM

The booklet “Promise, Divide, Intimidate and Coerce: 12 tactics palm oil companies use to grab community land” was created by World Rainforest Movement, GRAIN and an Alliance of community and local organisations united against industrial oil palm plantations in West and Central Africa, including RADD, SEFE, Synaparcam of Cameroon, Muyissi Environnement of Gabon and ERA/Community Forest Watch of Nigeria.


It describes the main tactics used by these corporations to take over community land. The aim is to support communities who want to strengthen their resistance and better prepare themselves to stop corporations from establishing industrial oil palm plantations on their lands.

A vital guide by @Grain_org and @WorldRainforest about #palmoil #landgrabbing to assist communities to combat the violence, intimidation and coercion used in the name of so-called “sustainable” #palmoil We #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife


Oil palm plantation companies use very similar tactics wherever they operate to try and take over the land of communities. Knowing that they can count on high-level politicians and state authorities for support, the companies routinely make promises they do not intend to keep, try to silence and marginalise opposition to their plans and divide communities. 


Where necessary, they coerce, intimidate, harass and even have opponents to their activities killed. Villagers, especially in remote places, often think such violence, intimidation and land grabbing is only happening to them.

Community representatives may initially believe the plantation company’s promises because they are unaware of community experiences elsewhere. 

Questions to ask

1 Who is behind the company?

2 Who is funding the company and its expansion plans?

3 Who will the company sell its palm oil to?

4 Palm oil companies are not charities.

Download Booklet


The reality, however, is that violence – and in particular sexual violence against women- is an inseparable part of the industrial plantation model and that the tactics companies use to take community land have been fine-tuned through decades of experience around the world. 

Global Witness October 2021 Report: Violence and death for palm oil connected to household supermarket brands (RSPO members)

“One palm oil firm, Rimbunan Hijau, [Papua New Guinea] negligently ignored repeated and avoidable worker deaths and injuries on palm oil plantations, with at least 11 workers and the child of one worker losing their lives over an eight-year period.

“Tainted palm oil from Papua New Guinea plantations was sold to household name brands, all of them RSPO members including Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Colgate, Danone, Hershey’s and PZ Cussons and Reckitt Benckiser”

The true price of palm oil: How global finance funds deforestation, violence and human rights abuses in Papua New Guinea – Global Witness, 2021


This booklet describes the main tactics companies use to get their hands on community land. It considers questions such as: 

  • How do companies trick communities into agreeing to give them control over their land? 
  • Why are empty promises made by the company about generating local employment or health and education facilities so effective in convincing communities to allow them onto their land? 
  • What can communities do to stop the theft of their land, and the destruction of the local water springs, creeks, rivers, forests and other places that are affected by the plantations? 
  • What can communities do in situations where the company has already taken their land? 
  • And, why do projects promoted by some companies and governments in which peasant farmers grow oil palm under contract for the company result in debt and poverty for participating farmers?

Strengthen community resistance to landgrabbing

This booklet is not a step-by-step manual that, if followed, will stop a company from setting up a plantation on community land. The objective of this booklet is to support communities who want to strengthen their resistance and better prepare themselves to stop corporations from setting up industrial oil palm plantations on their land. If a community is aware of community experiences elsewhere, it can more easily recognise company tactics. A community can then discuss different responses early on, so that when one way of resisting the company’s plans fails, the community can persevere and try a different way, while being prepared for new tactics that the company might use.


We hope these descriptions of company tactics will inspire others to plan, prepare, and keep their communities united and to build alliances with neighbouring communities and regional or international networks. The booklet is a work in progress. We welcome feedback and suggestions for change.
GRAIN and WRM

Download the booklet [5.12 MB] 

Companies come prepared to take over the land: communities must prepare to resist

The importance of a community speaking with one voice.Tactics that companies use to obtain access to community land

Tactic 1 Secure approval and support from high-level government officials

Tactic 2 Secure support from local elites and people trusted by the community

Tactic 3 Co-opt or pressure chiefs into making community land available for the company’s plantations

Tactic 4 Promise employment, improved roads, schools, health facilities

Tactic 5 Organise community meetings to create the appearance of community consent

Tactic 6 Silence local opponents of the plantation project

Tactic 7 Exclude and marginalise women |The violence against women that companies never talk about

Tactic 8 Forge signatures, falsify documents and withhold copies from villagers

Tactic 9 Use fraudulent land certificates and land surveys to take control of community land

Tactic 10 Promise improved food security but create food insecurity

Tactic 11 Promote smallholder contracts as an opportunity to ‘get rich planting industrial oil palms’

Tactic 12 Use partnerships with conservation NGOs and ‘Sustainable Palm Oil’ labelsto create a ‘green’ image | RSPO-certified conflict palm oil

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, scientists, conservationists, 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 and industrial agriculture sectors and through strong campaigning we can stop them cutting down forests. Be bold! Be courageous! Join the #Boycott4Wildlife and stand up for the animals with your supermarket choices

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