Since the mid-1990s conflicts have arisen in Danau Sembuluh (where PT Mustika Sembuluh -PT MS- operates) as a consequence of palm oil expansion. Three villages are located within the PT MS area: Desa Pondok Damar, Desa Tanah Putih and Desa Bangkal. The majority of the population of the area are indigenous Dayak Temuan.
The communities insist that they have lived there for over 150 years.
Their customary lands started to be grabbed already in the 1970s by logging companies, and later in the 1990s by palm oil companies. Up to the 90s, the local communities depended on rotating agriculture and garden cultivation, hunting, fishing and fruit picking form the forest.
Due to the decreasing forest land available to practise agriculture and government prohibitions to burn the forest, traditional practises decreased. Oral evidence was traditionally central to legitimate customary rights to land, and it still plays a very important role for the communities.
Communities have submitted letters to negotiate, held demonstrations and captured company property, responding to loss of customary land, inexistent consultation or lack of compensation.
PT MS started to operate under Wilmar International’s operations in 2007, a company which is member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) since 2005 .
The plantations completely surround the village of Pondok Damar, the location of the first statement.
An ongoing conflict between the local community and the company has existed since its establishment, due to land grabbing, promises of employment that never materialized and river pollution. In addition, illegal planting of oil palm has been reported close to the edges, rivers and within roads.
In Bangkal, the oldest village in the area, land conflicts are also numerous given that customary rights to land were ignored by the company. Since 2005, around 2000 ha have been under dispute. The community sent a letter to the company with their complains and sent a report to the government. A report was also sent to the National Human Rights Comission, which gave some recommendations to the local authorities that had little impact.
In Tanah Puti, conflicts are also present. For instance, the clearing of land destroyed ancestral lands which initiated a conflict in 2005 and violated the Criteria of the RSPO.
After the purported agreement of a conflict resolution mechanism by the parties, the non-compliance was closed. The company got their certification despite the existence of a conflict, since a “resolution process was in place” . In addition, other conflicts exist (not recognized by the RSPO) relating to land grabbing without consent nor compensation. Moreover, the communities’ access to rivers and roads has been limited by the plantation of oil palm.
Benefits obtained by these three villages in terms of development have been insignificant, which has resulted in collective protests . Some conflicts have been ongoing since 2007 despite the existence of a resolution mechanism, which appears to have been agreed upon only with the village chiefs and not the members of the communities. The company has also established a mechanism to calculate compensation for loss of customary land, which has not been accepted by all the parties. The pollution of rivers remains unresolved, seeing that the communities have no access to clean water for daily needs (only to drink) .