Coping with the emergence of new sovereignties over sustainability: Dilemmas and decision-making of the Indonesian state in a plural legal order

Hospes, O.; Schouten, A.M.; Deike, J.


This paper describes how the Indonesian state copes with the emergence of global networks of business and civil society as new sovereigns over sustainability of an economically very important activity on its territory: the production of palm oil. Indonesia is the largest producer and exporter of palm oil in the world and plans to double its current production of Crude Palm Oil by 2020, mainly by expanding palm oil production. Global networks of business and civil society fear that this will lead to further loss of forest, biodiversity and peat soils, and herewith increase of greenhouse gas emissions. Local NGOs and smallholder movements expect that expansion of palm oil production will fuel new land conflicts between communities and plantation companies. To map the plural legal order that has evolved as a result of non-state actors claiming political legitimacy to define sustainability of palm oil production in Indonesia, three types of sovereignties are distinguished (based on Comaroff and Comaroff 2009): sovereignties over territory and its inhabitants, sovereignties over transactional spheres and commodity flows, and sovereignties over people conjoined in faith or culture. To describe the dilemma’s and strategies of the Indonesian state in political decision-making over sustainability in a plural legal order, the concepts of the cunning state (Randeria 2003) and the ecological state (Eckersley 2004) are used, examined and adapted. Our analysis suggests that Indonesian state actors both challenge and reproduce the global sustainability regime framed and dominated by European non-state actors. They do so by competing and cooperating with global private-civil networks and by establishing agreements with other states and intergovernmental agencies.