Nigeria palm oil land grab exposes need for human rights treaty

A new report on palm oil land grabs in Nigeria by Asia’s leading agribusiness group exposes the need for a binding treaty to regulate corporate human rights abuses globally, says Friends of the Earth International.

Global palm oil trader Wilmar International Ltd. (WLIL.SI) has come under scrutiny for a large-scale land acquisition in Cross River State, Nigeria where it destroyed areas of High Conservation Value, including community food-producing areas and water sources essential to local communities, according to a report released today. [1]

The new report, 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.

"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."

Friends of the Earth International and other activists from the Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power and the Treaty Alliance, a growing global alliance of civil society groups, are campaigning for a legally binding international treaty to prevent and remedy corporate human rights abuses during a UN gathering in Geneva. [2]

The treaty is supported by many diverse governments including those of Ecuador, South Africa, Indonesia, India, China as well as the Vatican and by more than 800 organisations, including the UN Human Rights Council.

Existing voluntary guidelines on business and human rights do not provide access to justice and remedy for victims of corporate abuse, according to Friends of the Earth International, which advocates for a legally binding system to put human rights above the corporate privileges.

“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,” said Anne van Schaik, Sustainable Finance Campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe.

The report cites academic and community-based research showing that Wilmar’s Nigerian operations may displace subsistence food production by thousands of local farmers.

“Wilmar’s Nigerian landgrab is a prime example of how leading palm oil producers – even those like Wilmar that are in the global spotlight – exploit vulnerable communities and failures in governance to grab land to fuel their profits,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth-US.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Godwin Ojo, executive director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria / Environmental Rights Action (and member of the executive committee of Friends of the Earth International): + 234 813 520 8465 or gloryline2000@yahoo.co.uk

Jeff Conant, International Forests Campaigner, Friends of the Earth-US: +1 510 900 0016 or email JConant@foe.org

Anne van Schiek, Sustainable Finance Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe: +31 6 243 43968 or anne.vanschaik@foeeurope.org Read the report http://webiva-downton.s3.amazonaws.com/877/22/9/6057/FOEExploitationAndEmptyLOWRES_rev.pdf

Summary http://webiva-downton.s3.amazonaws.com/877/f7/4/6087/Nigeriareportsummary-lowres.pdf

Image: Farmers protesting Wilmar’s destruction of their lands, near Ibogo Village, Cross River State. May 2015. Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria