Human rights and gender equality in EU climate actions: A case study of palm oil for biofuels in Indonesia

This report is part of the project “The Road from Paris to Sustainable Development: Effectively Integrating Human Rights and Gender Equality into EU Climate Actions”.

A case study of palm oil for biofuels in Indonesia. The issue of climate change is an issue of development and thus combating climate change involves shifting development towards more sustainable routes. The present paper will elaborate on the impact of European Union policies relating to biofuels on Indonesia, which is the world’s largest palm oil producer.

The paper explores the relevant legal landscape in Indonesia as it relates to the industry, which has had a long history of human rights violations and deregulation, partly driven by increasing global demand and a need for development. Around 11.9 million hectares of land have been allocated for palm oil plantations in Indonesia and this has caused deforestation and conflicts with indigenous peoples and local communities. Furthermore, women working in the informal palm oil sector are prone to be victimized for a number of reasons, including issues relating to land ownership. The palm oil industry is expected to continue to expand in the short term due to recent developments in the aviation industry, which will drive an increase in demand for biofuels. Recently, the EU Parliament issued a resolution on palm oil and biofuels recognizing its negative impacts, including human rights violations, and it is moving towards putting in place trade regulations, whilst all EU Member States support the recent aviation industry developments. Significant restrictions on trade could negatively impact smallholder farmers, who constitute 35% of palm oil plantations.

This paper argues that there is a need to link climate change and human rights in multilateral, national and bilateral policy as well as in voluntary business mechanisms guided by the Ruggie Principles. It recommends policy reform related to both the EU and Indonesia, as well as enhanced support for human rights, including the rights of women and indigenous peoples. The paper also emphasizes the fact that enforcement, monitoring and transparency remain key to ensure climate actions are aligned with sustainable development and respect for human rights.

Product details
Date of Publication
February 2018
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union
Number of Pages
All rights reserved
Language of publication