Competing land claims are the primary cause of conflict between communities and companies in most industrial tree plantation conflicts.
Conflicts manifest in different ways. Communities often conduct physical protests and media campaigns, whereas companies frequently avoid dialogue and enlist the services of security forces to suppress conflict.
The involvement of security forces should be regulated. Conflicts where external security personnel were involved had fatalities in 32% of the cases, versus none of the cases where external security personnel were not involved. In cases where violence occurred, the violence was mostly conducted by or directed against security personnel, army and police forces. However, we cannot differentiate between whether they were involved in a conflict already about to escalate, or whether their involvement escalated the conflict into violence.
Mediation is widely misinterpreted and poorly implemented. However, efforts are being made by government and non-governmental actors to build capacity in principles and practices of mediation.
More effort should be made to support communication between parties in conflict and to offer professional mediation services at an early stage of conflict. For the many conflicts that have already escalated to levels of physical violence, efforts to transform how the conflict is expressed or external intervention to enforce a solution may be most appropriate.
While communication between conflicting parties may be supported by government, it should not be mediated by government, as government is in itself an actor in most of the conflicts (as it issues the permits to the land). Ideally, mediation services can be provided by professional mediators who are part of the Impartial Mediators Network or registered under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or the Chamber of Commerce.
Concrete actions that signal the parties’ commitment to ending or de-escalating the conflict are critical.
Local activists and community members report that companies that are RSPO members are more easily held accountable. They also respond faster to complaints, even without direct intervention of the RSPO. Most conflicts with fatalities (67%) occurred on plantations that were not associated with an international sustainability initiative such as RSPO or FSC.