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How we constructed a database of conflicts pushed by Indonesia’s palm oil smallholder scheme

In our joint investigation with BBC News and The Gecko Project, we built a database of public reports to shed light on a widespread problem for which there was limited data.The database enabled us to target field reporting, identify trends and connect plantation companies to major consumer goods firms. Now, we are making it public

How we constructed a database of conflicts pushed by Indonesia’s palm oil smallholder scheme

  • In our joint investigation with BBC Information and The Gecko Venture, we constructed a database of public reviews to make clear a widespread drawback for which there was restricted information.
  • The database enabled us to focus on area reporting, determine traits and join plantation corporations to main client items companies. Now, we’re making it public for others to make use of.
  • This text units out how we developed the database, how we used it, what it contains, and its limitations.

In Sumatra, villagers occupied an oil palm plantation and set tires on hearth; within the Bangka-Belitung Islands, they filled the local parliament building demanding motion; in Borneo, paramilitary police have been deployed to manage the protests.

Every of those incidents appeared in native media reviews in Indonesia previously few years and instructed what was changing into, to anybody paying consideration, an more and more acquainted story.

For the reason that Nineteen Seventies, as corporate-run palm oil plantations unfold throughout Indonesia, corporations promised to share them with native villagers, in plots often known as “plasma.” Initially, they made these commitments to safe entry to land and backed authorities financing; from 2007, it was a authorized obligation to share a fifth of any new plantation with villagers.

Throughout our area reporting in Indonesia’s palm oil heartlands, we repeatedly encountered allegations that corporations have been failing to ship. Native media reviews from throughout the Southeast Asian nation instructed an analogous story, with a gradual stream of appeals to authorities, protests, direct motion and typically even violence, on account of simmering conflicts over plasma.

Once we started to research this in earnest, one of many key questions we sought to reply was simply how widespread this drawback was. It quickly grew to become clear that authorities monitoring was patchy and unreliable. Authorities companies themselves openly acknowledged the issues of their information. Most palm oil producers declined to share information that will allow us to interrogate their claims that they have been complying with the regulation.

A man pushes oil palm.
For the reason that Nineteen Seventies, as corporate-run palm oil plantations unfold throughout Indonesia, corporations promised to share them with native villagers, in plots often known as “plasma.” Picture by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR by way of Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Because it grew to become obvious that there was no definitive, dependable information set, the potential utility of the native media reviews grew into sharper aid. We started to compile them right into a database, comprising each public report we may discover of a plasma-related dispute. In addition to native information tales, the database integrated reviews by credible nonprofits, authorities companies and nationwide publications.

To permit us to investigate how traits in conflicts over plasma have been shifting over time, we included allegations made between January 2012 and Might 2022, when the outcomes of our investigation have been first revealed. We excluded any instances the place the character of the allegation was unclear; the id of the corporate dealing with the allegation was unclear; there was proof the issue had been resolved; or we felt the article was of inadequate high quality to benefit inclusion. The information set finally expanded to instances involving greater than 200 particular person corporations.

Whereas we finally despatched reporters to look at 27 of the instances in better depth, it was past the scope of our investigation to confirm the entire allegations within the database. The information complemented, quite than changed, the shoe-leather reporting that fashioned the inspiration of our investigation.

Coding the instances by date, location, the corporate concerned and varied different typologies gave us insights into broader traits. We may see the place allegations have been occurring; the place instances have been escalating into protests; and which firms have been dealing with notably excessive numbers of allegations.

Utilizing the info from public reviews to generate insights

The database helped us to determine two primary classes of allegation that have been being leveled at corporations. First, that corporations had allegedly promised plasma, or have been legally required to supply it, however had by no means achieved so. Second, that the plasma did exist, however communities have been receiving insufficient income from it. We additionally used the info set to focus on our area reporting, conduct extra evaluation and current our findings visually.

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By categorizing and analyzing the alleged issues, our reporting group, together with BBC Information and The Gecko Venture, produced graphics setting out the size of the issue throughout Indonesia. The graphic beneath lists (so as) allegations that corporations have been failing to supply plasma (137 instances); the variety of instances wherein a road protest had occurred (111 instances); and allegations that communities have been receiving insufficient funds from plasma (55 instances). We recognized the place and when individuals had staged an indication or taken direct motion towards corporations to map these incidents out throughout Indonesia and over time. And we cross-referenced instances in our database towards information revealed by client items companies on the supply of their palm oil, to determine the variety of their suppliers that have been implicated in plasma conflicts.

Local media reports provided a rich seam of evidence in a data-poor environment

The database has limitations. It contains allegations that haven’t been independently substantiated. Because it seeks to include allegations remodeled a interval of a number of years, it might embody conflicts which have since been resolved. However, it possible considerably underestimates the true variety of conflicts over plasma, because it solely captures people who have caught the eye of reporters, researchers or authorities companies.

Nonetheless, it supplied priceless insights into broader traits for our investigation, and may also function a place to begin for additional investigation, analysis and motion by others.

Categorizing the info

This part units out these fields within the information set that we’re making publicly obtainable. We categorized the info from the reviews utilizing the next headings:

  • Firm Identify: The identify of the plantation firm referenced within the public report(s).
  • Father or mother Firm: The identify of the father or mother firm that, in line with publicly obtainable information, owned the plantation firm as of Might 2022; this area is listed as “Unknown” if we have been unable to determine the corporate’s proprietor.
  • Province: The province wherein the corporate topic to an allegation was working, in line with public reviews.
  • District: The district (kabupaten in Indonesian) wherein the corporate topic to an allegation was working.
  • Subdistrict: The subdistrict (kecamatan in Indonesian) wherein the corporate topic to an allegation was working. This area is left clean if the subdistrict was not named in public reporting. When an allegation referred to a plantation firm working throughout a number of subdistricts, they’re all listed.
  • Village: The identify of the village affected by the allegation. This area is left clean if the village was not named in public reporting.
  • Date of most up-to-date report: The date on which the latest public doc referring to the allegations was revealed. (Notice: the info set additionally contains public reviews revealed earlier than this date.)
  • Allegations that corporations have failed to supply plasma: Allegation(s) by group members, authorities officers, civil society organizations or researchers that an organization has both failed to supply some or the entire plasma that it’s legally obligated to supply or that it had promised to supply.
  • Allegations that communities are receiving insufficient funds from plasma: Allegation(s) by group members, authorities officers, civil society organizations or researchers that an organization managing a plasma scheme has did not make satisfactory funds to members of the group concerned in that scheme.
  • Protests: Situations the place group members have staged a public protest or carried out direct motion as a collective show of grievance with an organization as a result of it has allegedly failed to supply plasma or made insufficient funds to group members.
  • Authorities intervention: Instances the place, in line with public reviews, authorities officers at any degree have intervened in a plasma-related dispute between a group and an organization. This contains stating publicly that they’ll take motion; holding public hearings; mediating between communities and corporations; conducting area visits to confirm allegations; and/or sanctioning the corporate.
  • Supply: Hyperlinks to the general public reviews wherein the allegations associated to plasma have been revealed.

We stopped updating the database on the finish of 2022, and are not including new reviews.

View the info

Browse the info beneath or download it here.

Sharing the info

The whole information set is on the market right here. We’re releasing the dataset beneath the Creative Commons CC BY-NC license.

Banner picture: Villagers working within the oil palm plantations accumulating the harvest. Picture by Sawit Watch.

Six steps to tackle exploitation in Indonesia’s palm oil smallholder scheme (commentary)

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