“Re-engineering the Palm Oil Industry”
“Re-engineering the Palm Oil Industry”
The palm oil industry has, historically, been a frequent target of negative criticism. In all fairness, these claims are not unfounded, as palm oil companies are infamous for implementing non-sustainable practices which is a driver of forest fires, disruption of indigenous land, imbalance benefit-sharing with smallholders, and many more. Due to market-driven demands and raised awareness, however, these companies are starting to take into account landscapes (forests, land, ecosystems, etc.) as natural capital that, if not conserved today, would detrimentally affect their business in the future. IPOP is the culmination of that thought; a commitment by four major global companies in 2014 (Golden Agri Resources, Wilmar International, Cargill, and Asian Agri) then followed by two more (Musim Mas and Astra Argo Lestari) in 2015 and 2016, respectively. IPOP faced a two-tiered firewall: to carry out the commitment for more sustainable palm oil practices, then to convince stakeholders the seriousness of such intent. Building trust, establishing a clear position, and remaining committed to the cause were IPOP’s main challenges.
Our work with IPOP was to ensure the setup of a strong communications strategy and a robust stakeholder engagement program. ID COMM was entrusted with the undertaking to introduce IPOP’s overall intent and vision, establish bridges to facilitate transmission of dissenting perceptions, and to mobilize support for the effort so advocate and implement sustainable palm oil supply chain practices. Being a dynamic sector that is highly volatile to change and saturated with a wide spectrum of stakeholders meant that ID COMM was presented with the challenge of having to continuously be innovative in rapidly responding to fluctuating situations.
We initiated our assistance to IPOP by mapping potential stakeholders, the recommendations of which was used as a benchmark to identify plausible areas that can be nominated as IPOP’s pilot locations and develop a sustainability roadmap for those areas. While a large chunk of stakeholder engagement was conducted by IPOP’s management, ID COMM made sure that materials were on par for both the management and its strategic counterparts. An important and pivotal component of the initiative is to prove that sustainable practices in palm oil is possible and advantageous, and this was done through farmers’ empowerment and capacity building. In lieu of this, ID COMM worked closely with SPKS to allow them to transmit the real problem that they face: a lack of support from the government. This was important because the conventional illustration positioned farmers as victims that could not and would not want to be empowered. This was an inaccurate depiction of reality, and we helped IPOP ensure that the issue is rectified.
Additionally, IPOP relied on ID COMM to be on top of the dynamics concerning land regulation and land use changes, advocating to government counterparts in regards to their responsibilities, keeping up with the business chain and operations of IPOP’s signatory members, engage with NGOs/CSOs playing role as the industry’s watchdog, brokering exchange of information and relationships between the palm oil industry with relevant international, national, and sub-national entities, and to moderate political interests of relevant stakeholders within the industry. This was an important feature of ID COMM’s work with IPOP, considering that most stakeholders did not fully comprehend the concept of sustainable palm oil and the road leading to it, and we assisted IPOP in the efforts to balance out information and reverse the overall attitude of the media and stakeholders.
As illustrated above, stakeholders were a crucial component in forwarding IPOP’s agenda. And to that aim, ID COMM assisted IPOP in engaging with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Agraria and Spatial Planning, Ministry of Village Development of Underdeveloped Regions, and Transmigration, Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Office of the Presidential Staff. At the subnational level, IPOP engaged with government(s) of Musi Banyuasin (South Sumatera), Riau, and Seruyan (West Kalimantan). The NGOs/CSOs IPOP worked with included IDH, WRI, SPKS, Greenpeace, and Winrock. IPOP also involved international donors like USAID, and academic research institutions like RCCC Universitas Indonesia.
For ID COMM, our work with IPOP became an interesting “lessons-learnt”. To achieve truly sustainable practices, there needs to be a symphony of efforts from all stakeholders, especially government institutions. Due to continuous dissenting views from the Government of Indonesia (GoI) and GAPKI, IPOP’s signatory members decided that it was best to dissolve the platform; to prevent further damage to members’ reputation and avoid impending lawsuits. This was an important case that exhibits the fact that sometimes even when private sectors are committed to sustainability, it would not be sustainable if it was not supported by the government.
Nevertheless, notable contributions that ID COMM made throughout our work with IPOP including being able to engage with local media by ensuring they had comprehensive grasp of the issue, which helped gain their positive outlook towards IPOP. The media also committed their support to transition Indonesia’s palm oil industries towards a more sustainable paradigm. This was a welcomed shift, as the media was initially skeptical towards the initiative but then transitioned to a more neutral and observant stance, even to the point of following up the issue of sustainability to government institutions; an important enabler towards sustainable palm oil in Indonesia. This transition of support was also enabled as a result of our work with academic researchers from RCCC UI who worked to prove empirically the virtues of sustainable palm oil for the landscapes. ID COMM ensured that this critical information was properly transmitted to the media and push for public pressure to the government.
During its operations period, we assisted IPOP in navigating through the constant stream of criticism and disagreements through firm and sound advice regarding communications strategies to fortify IPOP’s management and signatory members’ reputation from being tarnished. We also assisted IPOP in developing an effective and responsible exit strategy in their final phase, ensuring that no knots were left untied.