Reference is made to the recent report by Rights & Resources Initiative titled "Turning Point: What future for forest peoples and resources in the emerging world order?" released on 1 February 2012. The report contains false and inaccurate statements about Sime Darby Plantation and its Liberian operations, which is misleading and misrepresents the actual situation in Liberia.
Sime Darby Plantation is a world leader in sustainable agricultural practices and is the world's largest producer of certified sustainable palm oil. Eighty seven per cent of the Group's total palm oil production has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). This commitment to sustainable agriculture is enforced in all Sime Darby Plantation's business units, including the fledgling operations under Sime Darby Plantation Liberia (SDPL) Inc. The RSPO's guidelines as adhered to by SDPL, encompass all aspects of operations. It also includes regular and direct engagement with communities, adherence to national laws and regulations, environmental stewardship and the use of best agricultural practices. As a company that works within communities, SDPL respects the traditions and practices of the people of Liberia and engages regularly with local communities and civil society groups. Such engagements have resulted in the withdrawal of a complaint alleging land grabbing, among others, made by Liberian civil society groups to RSPO in October 2011. Thus, the alleged transgressions attributed to SDPL in the RRI report are untrue.
Sime Darby Plantation signed a 63-year concession agreement with the Government of Liberia for 220,000 hectares of land to be developed into oil palm and rubber plantations. SDPL was set up to manage the plantations in Liberia and the first estate was launched in May 2011. To date, SDPL employs more than 3,000 Liberians. As of 11 December 2011, SDPL has developed 12,594 hectares and planted oil palm on 1,180 hectares.
All SDPL's estate managers are Liberians. They are trained and given the opportunity to learn best agricultural practices from the largest plantation company in the world. These managers are learning on the job and in turn pass on their knowledge to field workers. Once its estates are fully planted, SDPL will create up to 35,000 jobs, which will help Liberia address critical unemployment issues and rebuild her economy. SDPL not only provides jobs to local communities but also assists to improve infrastructure, amenities and schools. SDPL contributes to the wellbeing of its stakeholders while ensuring its plantations are developed responsibly and sustainably.
SDPL's employees and workers are compensated based on the signed Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the worker's union, General Agriculture and Allied Workers Union of Liberia (GAAWUL).
Sime Darby Plantation respects the local laws of Liberia and the traditions and practices of the Liberian people. As its standard operating procedure, SDPL undertakes Social & Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIA) before any development begins. SDPL will only start developing land after Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) has been obtained from the local communities. This is in keeping with Sime Darby Plantation's own internal policies, the FPIC guidelines under the New Planting Procedures (NPP) of the RSPO and Article 32 of UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People. Additionally, SDPL has hired independent assessors such as Flora & Fauna International, to study the SEIA process. SDPL has not evicted legal land owners nor relocated legal residents and neither has it desecrated cemeteries or sacred sites. No virgin forests have been cleared and neither have wetlands been filled in.
Within its present concession area, SDPL actively engages with community leaders and the community itself before any development. This means the plan of action for the specific area is shared at fora, where two-way communication is practiced between the people and the company. Specially designed awareness programmes have been and are consistently carried out in the concession areas. Where appropriate, compensation is paid to landowners who agree to develop their lands. Compensation plans are actively communicated to land owners during the many engagement sessions. Land owners are compensated for each palm, banana, kola and any other tree that is within their own land boundary, with as much as US$6.00 per plant. As of 30 September 2011, SDPL has paid US$1,348,978.94 as crop compensation to 2,132 farmers who have agreed to have their land developed, after negotiations were completed. If such agreement is not forthcoming, SDPL will NOT enter the land and force development.
Similarly, SDPL has strict policies against the clearing of virgin forests. In fact, it is Sime Darby Plantation's policy to conserve high conservation value forests (HCVF). This policy is applicable in all its operations regardless of geography. Areas that are preserved include:(i) natural forests within the estates (ii) wetland areas (iii) river and riparian boundaries (iv) water catchments and effluent pond areas (v) marginal soil areas (vi) areas with slopes of more than 20 degrees gradient (vii) land belonging to local indigenous peoples for which FPIC has not been obtained.
SDPL's Liberian concession area is mostly abandoned agricultural land neglected during the civil wars, and degraded forests. For example, some of the rubber estates within SDPL's area still contain trees planted in the 1960's. The age profile of these retards productivity, minimising the economic potential of the land and the communities that depend on the land.
Sime Darby Plantation is committed to the balanced development of the economy and the people of Liberia. SDPL is and will continue to ensure that all development carried out is done so in accordance with the best practices its parent company is well known for. Sime Darby Plantation believes in proactive engagement and supports responsible and accountable reporting.
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