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World’s largest palm oil trader comes under scrutiny for land grab in Nigeria

Posted Jul. 8, 2015 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new report scrutinizes leading global palm oil trader Wilmar International Ltd. (WLIL.SI) for abuses of human and environmental rights in a large-scale land acquisition in Cross River State, Nigeria. The report, jointly released today by Friends of the Earth U.S. and Environmental Rights Action-Nigeria, exposes Wilmar’s destruction of High Conservation Value areas, including community food-producing areas and water sources essential to local communities.

Exploitation and empty promises: Wilmar’s Nigerian landgrab,” uses first-person testimonies, satellite maps, and Wilmar’s own filings with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to demonstrate that the company failed to gain the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of communities directly affected by its operations; failed to produce adequate Environmental and Social Impact Assessments; and failed to live up to promises of infrastructure development and benefit sharing, despite these promises being a primary incentive for local communities to allow the company to operate in Cross River State.

The report cites academic and community-based research which reveals that Wilmar’s Nigerian operations have displaced subsistence food production by local farmers, with impacts that may undermine the food security of thousands of local farmers.

"It is a disgrace that Wilmar is painting a picture to its financiers and buyers that they have improved their operations, when the reality on the ground shows that they are still bulldozing away people's lives,” said Godwin Ojo, executive director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria. “Wilmar should address these evictions and human rights violations, or pack and go."

The company also purchased a concession that encroaches on Cross River National Park and other forest reserves, leading to an apparent increase in deforestation within these reserves and potentially threatening endemic and endangered species in one of Africa’s most biodiverse rainforest regions.

In 2013, Wilmar International, which trades roughly 45 percent of globally traded palm oil, adopted a broad policy commitment to “No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation.” Wilmar’s commitment opened the doors for a host of similar commitments across the palm oil and soft commodities sectors. Although Wilmar’s land acquisitions in Nigeria pre-date its 2013 commitment, plantation development has apparently continued uninterrupted in Cross River State since that time.

“Wilmar’s Nigerian land grab is a prime example of how leading palm oil producers -- despite the global spotlight on them -- continue to exploit vulnerable communities and failures in governance to fuel their profits,” said Jeff Conant, senior international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S.

“The recent U.S. FDA ruling to phase out artificial trans-fats makes increasingly urgent the need for financiers of the palm oil industry and consumer companies that use palm oil to steer clear of such exploitation. It is crucial, as demand increases, for governments in both home countries and host countries to implement binding laws to prevent abuse,” Conant said.

Friends of the Earth’s findings in Nigeria come as similar concerns are raised with other Wilmar operations in West Sumatra, Indonesia. In a news release today, Forest Peoples’ Programme -- or FPP -- documents accusations against Wilmar subsidiary PT PHP1 for criminalizing local people when they raised legitimate grievances about the company’s operations. A second set of findings raised by FPP concern an attempt by Wilmar personnel to bribe World Bank officials in 2011.

“We have no reason to believe that this company has changed its stripes,” said Anne van Schaik, sustainable finance campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe. “Voluntary codes of conduct like Wilmar’s simply do not hold sufficient weight to solve problems of the company’s own making. The company’s failure to respect human rights in Nigeria is yet another example that transnational corporations like Wilmar cannot be trusted to police themselves.”

Friends of the Earth’s report calls on Wilmar to halt its Nigerian operations immediately, until such time as it has legitimately addressed community grievances and gained community consent. The report also warns investors that the palm oil sector is rife with environmental, social and governance risks; and it calls on states to support efforts by the United Nations Human Rights Commission to hold transnational corporations accountable for violating human rights.

For more information:
Download "Exploitation and empty promises: Wilmar’s Nigerian landgrab."
Download "Exploitation and empty promises: Wilmar’s Nigerian landgrab," Summary for Policymakers.
Download high resolution photos and testimonials.

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Expert contacts:
Godwin Ojo, Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria), +234 8135208465, gloryline2000@yahoo.co.uk
Anne van Schaik, Sustainable Finance Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe, anne.vanschaik@foeeurope.org
Jeff Conant, International Forests Campaigner, Friends of the Earth U.S., +1 (510) 900-0016, jconant@foe.org

Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org

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