'Corporate Colonialism' Runs Wild as 'Growth' Bulldozes Forests

Multinational corporations seizing, deforesting land in Indonesia

"Corporate colonialism" is bringing farmer deaths, poverty, human rights violations and ecological catastrophe to Indonesia with little recourse for the local communities who suffer the effects of projects touted as "growth," the Guardian's John Vidal reports.

In the match between corporate power and the poor in the archipelago, the number of conflicts is on the rise. Vidal reports that

More than 600 were recorded in 2011, with 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The true number is probably far greater, say watchdog groups.

"The scale of the conflicts is growing. Every day new ones are reported. More and more police are now in the plantations. Government is trying to clamp down on mass protests," Vidal reports Abetnego Tarigan, director of Friends of the Earth Indonesia in Jakarta, as saying.

"Who controls the land in Indonesia controls the politics. Corruption is massive around natural resources. We are seeing a new corporate colonialism. In the Suharto era you were sent to prison for talking about the government. Now you can be sent there for talking about corporations," says Tarigan.

Here, as in so much of the world, corporate power trumps all.

"These developments are classed as 'growth' but what we are seeing is the collapse of communities of fisherfolk or farmers and increasing poverty," he continues. "We are exchanging biodiversity for monocultures, local economies for global ones, small-scale producers are becoming labourers and community land is becoming corporate. This is the direction we are going."

One problem for communities is the growing number of palm oil plantations, which, Henry Sarigih, founder of the Indonesian Peasant Union, says "has spawned a new poverty and is triggering a crisis of landlessness and hunger."

The table below from the non-profit organization GRAIN shows hundreds of thousands of hectares seized in reported land grabs in Indonesia between 2002 and 2012 where the stated intention of the investors is the production of biofuels:

Another name behind the Indonesian land grabs is the Minneapolis-based BigAgriculture giant Cargill.

As environmental group Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which has campaigned extensively on stopping the ecologically damaging palm oil expansions, has noted, the company has "recently announced its plan to expand their Indonesian palm oil plantations." This is pushing the Sumatran orangutan close to extinction as well as contributing to massive carbon dioxide-emitting slash-and-burn practices.

"It's a perfect storm of human rights abuses and social conflict on the one hand and the destruction of some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world on the other," said Laurel Sutherlin, communications director for RAN.

Ultimately, saving the Indonesian forests will save all of us.

"Of course, it's not just local communities and wildlife that need to be protected from bulldozers and forest fires," writes RAN's Gemma Tillack. "Indonesia's rainforests are a valuable carbon sink--destroying them would make our climate problem that much worse, imperiling the future of everyone on this planet just to enrich a few well-connected businessmen."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.