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Update Statement on Earthworm's Engagement with Toba Pulp Lestari

Today we are sharing our first progress update on Earthworm Foundations (EF) work with Toba Pulp Lestari. As per our statement in October 2022, EF commenced work under an agreement with PT Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) that operates in North Sumatra, Indonesia, in order to review the company’s community engagement approach.

EF’s work is split into two main areas. First, EF is assessing TPL’s current systems, processes and practices, related to social engagement and conflict management, including major grievances against the company. Second, EF is formulating targeted recommendations and action plans for the short, medium and long term, and will then support TPL to achieve these.

Below we present our activities and findings from our field team’s first engagements on the ground in North Sumatra in October and November.

Our actions to date

(1) Completed a review of TPL’s procedures, tools and trainings that have been deployed to support the implementation of the company’s policies, especially those related to their engagement with communities living in and impacted by TPL’s five concession areas. EF reviewed TPL’s business processes and how these relate to community engagement and grievance handling, including review of 14 company procedures, field observations in all five TPL estates and in-depth discussions with 53 people from TPL middle and top management.

(2) EF initiated public engagement by introducing our team to the community leaders who represent 80% of the communities located within, or that are directly affected by, the five TPL operational estates. As part of this process, EF provided background material in Indonesian language setting out the scope of EF’s work, which also stated the FPIC principles that will guide EF during our engagement with local people. EF also engaged with a wide range of stakeholders including indigenous community leaders, community members, and local NGO representatives, including those linked to specific grievances. Targeted discussions were held regarding land claims and major grievances lodged against TPL, as well as customary practices in the region where TPL operates.

(3) So far, EF has been able to review all available data related to land claims and land related grievances across all five TPL estates. This covered a collection of available evidence as provided by the Government around land claims, including cartographic data and field analysis of land claim boundaries, and interviews with key stakeholders linked to these. EF plans to widen this data collection in Q1 2023 to create a comprehensive picture.

(4) EF provided feedback to TPL senior management, and in November held a planning workshop for EF’s short-term work with TPL covering end of 2022 and early 2023. EF is currently formulating the mid- and longer-term actions required to resolve grievances and conflicts. We expect that TPL will share a public action plan by 31 January 2023, including a commitment to regular reporting on progress against that action plan.

Preliminary findings:

We want to make clear that the findings noted below are preliminary. We are very aware that at this early stage we still have gaps in information and that the necessary environment of trust to enable people to share openly is in the process of being established. EF will continue to transparently share our actions, and welcomes inputs along the way.

Our key preliminary findings are as follows:

  • The TPL team has been open and transparent with EF about its internal processes and data, especially concerning the major grievances which have been lodged against them and land claims which have been filed with Government related to their licensed concession areas.
  • TPL have a need to enhance their application of FPIC principles and ensure that they continuously update their community engagement and grievance procedure and practices to reflect international best practices.
  • Community representatives and key stakeholders engaged thus far have welcomed the discussions, but we also recognize this is only the start of gathering a clearer picture and there remains considerable work to build trust among all parties. This also highlighted the importance of our commitment to FPIC principles, especially to ensure we can operate without undue influence of the company and ensure the protection of those who share information about the company.
  • Our review of land claim data, including maps provided to EF, highlighted potentially overlapping land claims between indigenous individuals, groups and communities, some of which also overlap with TPL’s licensed concession areas. In order to avoid causing or exacerbating local conflicts between local parties especially communities, any resolution of these land claims will require further data collection and substantial local participation.
  • A number of land claims lie outside of TPL development areas and/or estates, or concern areas where TPL has clearly stated they will not develop into plantations. Working together on conservation solutions for these areas is an important area of potential collaboration between TPL and communities that are concerned about the security of their land rights.

Next steps:

Our goal remains to both support the company in making improvements to its community engagement approach and creating stronger foundations from which TPL can tackle grievances in a responsible and effective way. EF also seeks to develop trust with local communities and key stakeholders to create lasting solutions.

A set of immediate actions has been agreed by TPL that include improvement of procedures and delivery of trainings on required skills related to grievance handling and community engagement. TPL will be making this public in January when it shares its action plan.

EF’s team will continue to work to review and help TPL to revise its procedures, and to build TPL capacity to deliver these on the ground, including enabling participatory mapping.

EF’s team will continue to build trust locally and reach out to all local stakeholders from communities, civil society and government to encourage further data-sharing and collaboration related to community land claims. This work will continue to be guided by the principles of FPIC which have formed the basis of our initial engagements, and we will continue to be open to inputs and feedback from all parties.

A further public update on EF’s work with TPL will be provided in April 2023.