Palm oil, power and participation: the political ecology of social impact assessment

Delabre, Izabela and Okereke, Chukwumerije (2020) Palm oil, power and participation: the political ecology of social impact assessment. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 3 (3). pp. 642-662. ISSN 2514-8486

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The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), as a form of neoliberal environmental governance operating beyond-the-state, seeks to address its democratic deficit and gain legitimacy through deliberative and consultative processes. The RSPO requires companies to conduct participatory Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for both new developments and existing operations in an attempt to identify and address the critical social impacts associated with palm oil production. Using a political ecology framework, and a mixed methods approach, this study explores SIAs as sites of power struggles, to understand the contestations, inequities, and marginalisations that occur in SIA processes. By exploring the nature of SIA as a market-led regime that privileges certain knowledges and politics, and is co-opted and controlled by powerful actors, the paper challenges the notion that SIA can ensure the inclusion of previously marginalised people in decision-making processes. Participation in SIA is found to be, at most, consultative and top-down, and risks the further disempowerment of affected peoples. By viewing SIA as a discrete intervention, without a clear wider political project for social change for local peoples and workers, the RSPO risks “rendering technical” and “marketable” the multifaceted social impacts associated with palm oil production as it simultaneously enacts particular global, neoliberal “participatory” strategies that are applied locally in ways that (re-)produce hegemony and legitimacy.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > Management
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex Sustainability Research Programme
Subjects: H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labour
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions and public administration (Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Area, etc.) > JQ0021 Asia
Depositing User: Izabela Delabre
Date Deposited: 23 Sep 2019 14:21
Last Modified: 01 Oct 2020 10:45

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