International FPIC Briefing – April 2013

Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a policy area that is gaining greater currency in international public policy debates on economic development, tenure rights and the environment. This regular briefing from World Growth aims to keep readers abreast of developments across the world.

Brazil: Communities Occupy Eucalyptus Plantations in Brazil

Approximately 1,400 Brazilian women recently occupied eucalyptus plantations in various locations in Brazil, as part of an annual action for International Women’s Day in March. The peasants, led by the Bahia Rural Workers Movement (MST) have accused the plantation owners of environmental damage and ignoring local communities.

The occupations took place in Itabela and Teixeira de Freitas.

MST has requested that the company in question – Veracel – put tracts of land aside for agrarian use.

According to Veracel, the occupation goes against a previous commitment made between the company and a number of social groups that was brokered by the state government. Under this agreement, the Sustainable Settlements Programme was created, with the goals of providing land for local communities.

Despite this, MST has accused the companies of self-promotion and neglecting genuine social problems. The group has also accused the companies’ projects of diverting state funds towards the pulp industry rather than to social programs such as education and health.

Veracel is a major supplier of pulp to a number of global companies including Kimberly-Clark.

Its operations have previously come under scrutiny from a number of European campaign groups, which have claimed that it should have its FSC certification revoked.

Specifically, the activists claimed that Veracel had not complied with certification requirements under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), specifically labour and land tenure. These claims were investigated by FSC, which maintained Veracel’s certification after the company complied with corrective action requests.

Ecuador: Campaigners Accuse Government of Denying FPIC

US-based activist group Amazon Watch has accused Ecuador’s government of failing to give free, prior and informed consent to local indigenous groups in the country’s most recent attempt to attract petroleum investors.

Ecuador’s government has stated that it will auction approximately 3 million ha of forest land for the purposes of resource exploration and development. According to news reports, China-based oil companies are the leading bidders.

The investment roadshows held by Ecuador’s government have attracted protests from groups that claim to be supporting indigenous communities.

According to the campaign group Amazon Watch, there are seven communities that live within the area to be auctioned. The group also claims that the communities have not been consulted.

However, based on previous claims of wrongdoing in Ecuadorean mining, the consultation and gaining of consent should actually be undertaken by the relevant company during the exploration stage – not prior to the granting of exploration rights.

The Ecuadorean Government has accused the indigenous and campaign groups of being politically motivated and ignoring the country’s broader development goals.

Amazon Watch has previously been featured in international media for links to the high-profile legal case between several indigenous tribes and the US-based Chevron. The case has been marked by accusations and counter-accusations of fraud between the two parties.

Policy: FSC’s FPIC Guidance Increases Complexity

Forest certification group FSC’s guidance on FPIC released late last year leaves a number of unresolved questions in relation to tenure rights and national laws.

The guidance was issued following the broadening of the FSC Principles and Criteria (P&C) in March last year in relation to indigenous people and local communities.

FSC doesn’t contain any specific provisions for FPIC, but has always contained recognition of indigenous rights. The guidance attempts to incorporate FPIC into the P&C without having to undertake another revision.

The problem is that the revised P&C raise further ambiguities with regards to recognition of indigenous and community groups.

The recognition of indigenous communities remains within current international norms for FPIC. However, the recognition of local communities raises some problems. FSC requires FPIC from local communities should they demand it. Yet the guidance does not recommend that companies follow national laws when dealing with local communities, i.e. ordinary citizens, when dealing with local communities and their claims.

Instead, it recommends the implementation of stakeholder mapping and consultation processes (which most large-scale forestry companies undertake regardless) for the purposes of certification.

The inherent risk for forest operators here is that processes that are likely to have been undertaken anyway will now fall within FSC’s gambit – even if they are not a legal requirement, but a pre-existing management tool.

Policy: UN REDD Releases FPIC Guidelines

The United Nations REDD program has released guidelines on FPIC for REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) projects in developing countries. The guidelines are sensible.

The guidelines note that rather than being a right unto itself, FPIC is actually the consolidation of a number of different international legal norms, e.g. property rights, self-determination and non-discrimination.

This does to an extent explain the considerable confusion that has surrounded FPIC since its inception and the ease with which FPIC has been distorted by environmental campaign groups.

The guidelines were the subject of considerable lobbying as they will ultimately determine the level of local community involvement within REDD projects. As they are the first guidelines of their kind to be published by an intergovernmental agency, they are also likely be used as a legal benchmark by civil society and campaign groups.

The guidelines provide a key point of clarification over the status of local communities under FPIC.

Specifically, the guidelines make a distinction between indigenous peoples and local-communities. The guidelines state that FPIC is a requirement for indigenous groups, but local communities require only consultation.

This has been a point of contention among campaign groups. The general push by environmental groups has been for a blanket FPIC requirement for local communities and affected parties. This has to an extent put them at odds with both indigenous groups and sovereign governments.

There is, however, a clear difference between FPIC for REDD projects and projects undertaken by the private sector. In the case of REDD projects, the state has the function of both allocating land and being project proponent. Most resource projects – such as forestry – have the state functioning as the mediator in land transactions.

The new guidelines do not change the function of the state as being the main party that administers land-use decisions. This is unlikely to change.

In-Depth: Indonesia’s Toba Pulp Under Fire

Indonesian pulp producer Toba Pulp has come under fire from activists following clashes between the company and local communities. While environmental campaigners have jumped on the case in the past month, the situation on the ground has a long and complex history.

The clashes between the company – PT Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) – and local communities is nothing new. In the most recent case, Sipituhuta and Pandumaan village community members have objected to TPL’s activity.

However, there have been ongoing incidents between the owners local communities practically since the establishment of the 270,000ha forest concession and associated paper mill in 1984.

As far back as 1990, local communities had claimed that their land had been sold illegally to the original proponents of the pulp mill, Indorayon. Specifically, villagers claimed that local village heads and sub-district heads had authorised use of the land for forestry plantations illegally.

The illegal sale of land is a common occurrence in Indonesia and has been a particular source of conflict in areas such as Mesuji in South Sumatra.

The many disruptions to the mill’s operations – it lay dormant for almost five years in the early 2000s – have meant that the large forest area that it has access to is being developed slowly, meaning that forest areas have not been utilised by TPL for more than 20 years.

The current forest concession was drawn up in 1992 during the Suharto era. The problems associated with spatial planning in Indonesia during that period have been well documented. There are several cases where, for example, national parks and conservation areas were drawn up over populated areas, leading to a number of problems with local-level deforestation and illegal logging.

Similarly, influxes of transmigrant populations and broader population growth in North Sumatra have compounded the problems of conflicting land-use.

The current conflict appears to have been generated by the presence and farming activities of Sipituhuta and Pandumaan communities within the TPL concession. The question of who was there first is currently being debated.

An alternative dispute resolution mechanism between the community and the company commenced in 2010 and agreement was reached. The current violent incidents appear to have been catalysed by the development of a road through a grove of community plantation trees. According to news reports there is division among the community as to whether the road is beneficial and was agreed to.

The commencement of road construction sparked off a series of violent incidents and arson attacks that have resulted in 31 arrests.

In similar cases elsewhere in Sumatra, arson and violence has been sparked by external agitators that appear to be working with more radical peasant groups. The local pulp and paper union has called for an investigation into violence on its members.

However, it appears that international campaign action surrounding TPL has little regard for the root cause of the problem.


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