The Complaints Panel of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) ruled in favour of a complaint against palm oil giant, Wilmar International, finding that it illegally took land from the indigenous Kapa community without their consent, it was announced on 1 February.

The indigenous community, who live in West Sumatra, Indonesia, filed the formal complaint against Wilmar in October 2014. The complaint said Wilmar had taken over part of their customary lands and established an oil palm plantation without the community’s consent, Forest People’s Programme reported.

The RSPO ruled that Wilmar had violated its sustainability standard, and had not met the requirements of Indonesian law. Wilmar must now take steps to respect the Kapa’s land rights.

The leader of the Kapa community, Gampo Alam, said: "We have struggled for more than a decade to have our rights recognised after losing lands to Wilmar. We hope that Wilmar International will now honour the ruling of the RSPO, and will quickly restore our right to the lands that it took without our consent. For the Kapa, our customary land cannot be sold as it is our identity."

According to the Forest People’s Programme, the Kapa community had always been clear with Wilmar that it would not accept the company taking out a long-term business lease (HGU) over the lands – an act which would permanently terminate their rights.

Wilmar continued to try to obtain a HGU, despite a meeting between it and the community where it agreed to explore alternative legal options. It was successful in obtaining the HGU, resulting in the subsequent arrest of the Kapa community leader.

In response, the Kapa community filed a formal complaint to the RSPO.

Forest Peoples Programme Policy Advisor, Patrick Anderson, said: "This vital judgment from RSPO demonstrates that even the largest companies can’t get away with land grabbing. RSPO has ruled that companies must respect indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ customary rights to land and only operate on their lands with their free, prior and informed consent."