New investigation: "Promised prosperity, drowning in debt - How palm oil firms gamed a scheme to lift Indonesians out of poverty"

Hi everyone, I wanted to share our latest investigation, which looks at how plantation firms have gamed a scheme intended to give rural Indonesians their cut of the global palm oil boom.

Villagers were promised the scheme would bring prosperity. But after giving up their land, people in multiple cases we investigated were left with incomes below the international poverty line. Some are struggling to pay-off multi-million dollar debts.

I thought that people here might be interested in this for two reasons:

  1. Our analysis of the legal contracts that dictate the terms for these palm oil schemes drew heavily from Namati/CCSI’s Community Investor Negotiation guides: Namati and CCSI Launch New Resource: Community-Investor Negotiation Guides cc @davidarach @rachaelknight. So, thanks Namati.

  2. The fourth section (‘Someone is lying to you’) gives a detailed description of how support from an NGO, Sawit Watch, helped a community get the evidence government support they needed to renegotiate their deal.

There’s some more information the investigation below.


Since 2007, palm oil companies operating in Indonesia have been legally required to give communities a fifth of any new plantation, in plots known as “plasma”.

As the industry rapidly expanded, subsuming vast areas of Indonesia, companies promoted a new “partnership” model for plasma. Instead of giving villagers land to tend themselves, the corporations would manage it for them and pay out the profits.

But for some, those profits never arrived. We found that they are still waiting for any profits more than a decade on, struggling to pay off multi-million dollar debts and lacking answers as to why their plantations are not profitable. We also linked the companies we investigated to three major consumer goods firms: Nestle, Kellogg’s and Unilever.


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