Master’s thesis in Geography with Teacher Education | Supervisor: Ståle Angen Rye | November 2019 

By Hanne Mork Hamre | Student internship at Resource Governance in Asia Pacific, Research Centre for Politics and Government, Universitas Gadjah Mada, March – June 2019

The thesis is focused on how the legitimacy of The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as a global palm oil standard is negotiated at a local level in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The RSPO is a global palm oil standard with the objective to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. It aims to help to reduce the negative impacts of the palm oil cultivation on the environment and communities. The RSPO is established by- and for stakeholders representing the private sector. As most of the negative impacts that the RSPO aim to reduce are experienced locally, such as agrarian conflicts and labour rights violations in palm oil plantation, there is a need to investigate the legitimacy of the RSPO among the affected groups at a local level.

Based on a field study in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, the empirical material was obtained. The analysis is based on affected communities’ experiences of the agrarian conflicts and a trade union’s experiences of workers’ rights violations in a palm oil plantation. By analyzing the affected groups’ experiences related to the impacts and the implications of the RSPO through the concept of legitimacy and the legitimacy requirements; values, effectiveness and participation, and relate it to the concept of negotiation, it illustrates how the legitimacy of the RSPO as a global palm oil standard is negotiated at a local level in Central Kalimantan.

The study reveals the negotiation of the legitimacy is based on the values of the affected groups and the interaction of the RSPO’s values. The actions of the members of the RSPO, which in the present study show a lack of effectiveness of the RSPO in light of the similarities in values, leads to negotiation through participation of the local affected groups. The negotiation involving the RSPO’s complaints system; the trade union, demonstrations; open letters; and campaigns. However, there is not much evidence of negotiation due to the lack of- and the difficulty of participation, such as the absence of affected groups as members in the RSPO; the resistance and threats to the trade union by a member of the RSPO; the bad experience and lack of effectiveness of previous negotiation with the RSPO.

The lack of participation can be understood as the affected groups perception of the RSPO’s lacking ability to deal with the core of their claims based on different values, the lack of effectiveness after previous negotiations and their perception of the government as more important to work with than the RSPO. In consequence, this gives a better understanding why the affected groups in Central Kalimantan are skeptical and are raising questions about the legitimacy of the RSPO.

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