Skip to main content
×
Home

The Price of Un/Freedom: Indonesia's Colonial and Contemporary Plantation Labor Regimes

  • Tania Murray Li (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

Although often associated with colonial times, tropical plantations growing industrial crops such as rubber, sugar, and oil palm are once again expanding. They employ hundreds of thousands of workers, who still use remarkably basic tools. Flagging colonial continuities, labor activists campaign against the reemergence of unfree labor and “modern forms of slavery.” Paradoxically, labor activists also highlight the opposite problem: the casualization of plantation work, as workers are hired daily and fired at will. Recognizing that both “free” and unfree labor regimes have a long history in Indonesia, and plantations have pivoted between these modes more than once, my study compares plantation labor regimes in the colonial, New Order, and “reform” periods (post-1998) to answer three questions. First, given that employers always want to access disciplined labor at the lowest possible price, what were the conditions that led employers to rely on unfree labor in some cases, and “free” labor in others? Second, to what extent was unfreedom imposed as a response to excessive freedom among workers and peasants? Third, how were the costs of social reproduction distributed between workers and employers, and what pressures from workers or regulators (state, colonial, transnational) affected this distribution? In addition to published sources, I draw on my ethnographic research in West Kalimantan (2010–2015) to explore contemporary experiences of un/freedom among workers on state and private oil palm plantations.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Price of Un/Freedom: Indonesia's Colonial and Contemporary Plantation Labor Regimes
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Price of Un/Freedom: Indonesia's Colonial and Contemporary Plantation Labor Regimes
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Price of Un/Freedom: Indonesia's Colonial and Contemporary Plantation Labor Regimes
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
Corresponding author
tania.li@utoronto.ca
References
Hide All
Accenture. 2012. Exploitative Labor Practices in the Global Palm Oil Industry. http://humanityunited.org/pdfs/Modern_Slavery_in_the_Palm_Oil_Industry.pdf (accessed 9 Jan. 2017).
Alatas Syed Hussein. 1977. The Myth of the Lazy Native: A Study of the Image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th Century and Its Function in the Ideology of Colonial Capitalism. London: Routledge.
Amnesty International. 2010. Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ASA28/002/2010/en/ (accessed 9 Jan. 2017).
Anderson Benedict. 1999. Indonesian Nationalism Today and in the Future. New Left Review 235: 317.
Aspinall E. and van Klinken G., eds. 2011. The State and Illegality in Indonesia. Leiden: KITLV.
Barlow Colin. 1991. Developments in Plantation Agriculture and Smallholder Cash-Crop Production. In Hardjono J., ed., Indonesia: Resources, Ecology, and Environment. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
Barral Stephanie. 2014. Paternalistic Supervision of Labour in Indonesian Plantations: Between Dependence and Autonomy. Journal of Agrarian Change 14, 2: 240–59.
Behal Rana P. 2014. One Hundred Years of Servitude: Political Economy of Tea Plantations in Colonial Assam. Delhi: Tulika Books.
Boomgaard Peter. 2009. Labour, Land, and Capital Markets in Early Modern Southeast Asia from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century. Continuity and Change 24, 1: 5578.
Brass Tom. 2010. Unfree Labour as Primitive Accumulation? Capital and Class 35, 1: 2338.
Brass Tom and Bernstein Henry. 1992. Introduction: Proletarianisation and Deproletarianisation on the Colonial Plantation. In Daniel E. V., Bernstein H., and Brass T., eds., Plantations, Proletarians and Peasants in Colonial Asia. London: Frank Cass.
Breman Jan. 1983. Control of Land and Labour in Colonial Java. Dordrecht: Foris Publications Holland.
Breman Jan. 1989. Taming the Coolie Beast: Plantation Society and the Colonial Order in Southeast Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Breman Jan. 2015. Mobilizing Labour for the Global Coffee Market: Profits from an Unfree Work Regime in Colonial Java. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Breman Jan and Valentine Daniel E.. 1992. Conclusion: The Making of a Coolie. In Daniel E. V., Bernstein H., and Brass T., eds., Plantations, Proletarians and Peasants in Colonial Asia. London: Frank Cass.
Clarence-Smith W. G. 1994. The Impact of Forced Coffee Cultivation on Java, 1805–1917. Indonesia Circle 64: 241–64.
Cramb Rob and McCarthy John. 2016a. Characterising Oil Palm Production in Indonesia and Malaysia. In Cramb R. and McCarthy J., eds., The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia. Singapore: NUS Press.
Cramb Rob and McCarthy John, eds. 2016b. The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia. Singapore: NUS Press.
Daniel Valentine, Bernstein Henry, and Brass Tom, eds. 1992. Plantations, Proletarians and Peasants in Colonial Asia. London: Frank Cass.
Dove Michael. 1999. Representations of the “Other” by Others: The Ethnographic Challenge Posed by Planters' Views of Peasants in Indonesia. In Li T. M., ed., Transforming the Indonesian Uplands: Marginality, Power and Production. London: Routledge/ Harwood.
Dove Michael. 2011. The Banana Tree at the Gate. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Elmhirst Rebecca. 2011. Migrant Pathways to Resource Access in Lampung's Political Forest: Gender, Citizenship and Creative Conjugality. Geoforum 42: 173–83.
Elson Robert. 1994. Village Java under the Cultivation System, 1830–1870. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Fernando M. R. 2003. Coffee Cultivation in Java, 1830–1917. In Clarence-Smith W. G., ed., The Global Coffee Economy in Africa, Asia, and Latin America 1500–1989. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ford Michele. 1999. Testing the Limits of Corporatism: Industrial Relations in Suharto's Indonesia. Journal of Industrial Relations 41, 3: 372–92.
Fraser Nancy. 2014. Can Society Be Commodities all the Way Down? Post-Polanyian Reflections on Capitalist Crisis. Economy and Society 43, 4: 541–58.
Goffman Erving. 1961. Asylums. New York: Anchor Books.
Gordon Alec. 1982. Indonesia, Plantations and the “Post-Colonial” Mode of Production. Journal of Contemporary Asia 12, 2: 168–87.
Houben V.J.H. 1994. Profit versus Ethics: Government Enterprises in the Late Colonial State. In Cribb R., ed., The Late Colonial State in Indonesia: Political and Economic Foundations of the Netherlands Indies 1880–1942. Leiden: KITLV Press.
Institut Analisa Sosial. 1989. Sucked Oranges: The Indian Poor in Malaysia. INSAN: Institut Analisa Sosial (Malaysia).
Institute for Ecosoc Rights. 2014. Industri Perkebunan Sawit dan Hak Asasi Manusia: Potret Pelaksanaan Tanggung Jawab Pemerintah dan Korporasi terhadap Hak Asasi Manusia de Kalimantan Tengah. Jakarta: Institute for Ecosoc Rights/Norwegian Center Human Rights.
International Labor Organization. 2013. Labour and Social Trends in Indonesia 2013: Reinforcing the Role of Decent Work in Equitable Growth. Jakarta: ILO.
Julia and White Ben. 2012. Gendered Experience of Dispossession: Oil Palm Expansion in a Dayak Hibun Community in West Kalimantan. Journal of Peasant Studies 39, 3–4: 9951016.
Kano Hiroyoshi. 2008. Indonesian Exports, Peasant Agriculture and the World Economy, 1850–2000. Athens: Ohio University Press.
Kaur Amarjit. 2014. Plantation Systems, Labour Regimes and the State in Malaysia, 1900–2012. Journal of Agrarian Change 14, 2: 190213.
Knight G. R. 1988. Peasant Labour and Capitalist Production in Late Colonial Indonesia: The ‘Campaign’ at a North Java Sugar Factory 1840–70. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 19, 2: 245–65.
Kompas . 1997. ‘Koeli Kontrak’ dan Warisannya (1): Lolos Akibat Perkembangan Ekonomi. Ko mpas, 10 Jan.
LeBaron Genevieve. 2015. Unfree Labour beyond Binaries. International Feminist Journal of Politics 17, 1: 119.
Li Tania Murray. 2015. Social Impacts of Oil Palm in Indonesia: A Gendered Perspective from West Kalimantan. Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Li Tania Murray. 2016. Situating Transmigration in Indonesia's Oil Palm Labour Regime. In Cramb R. and McCarthy J., eds., The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia. Singapore: NUS Press.
Li Tania Murray. In press. Intergenerational Displacement in Indonesia's Oil Palm Plantation Zone. Journal of Peasant Studies.
Li Tania Murray, Pelletier Alexandre, and Sangadji Arianto. 2016. Unfree Labour and Extractive Regimes in Colonial Java and Beyond. Development and Change 47, 3: 598611.
Lindquist Johan. 2010. Labour Recruitment, Circuits of Capital and Gendered Mobility: Reconceptualizing the Indonesian Migration Industry. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 83, 1: 115–32.
Lindquist Johan. 2012. The Elementary School Teacher, the Thug and His Grandmother: Informal Brokers and Transnational Migration from Indonesia. Pacific Affairs 85, 1: 6989.
Marti Serge. 2008. Losing Ground: The Human Rights Impacts of Oil Palm Plantation Expansion in Indonesia: London, Edinburgh, and Bogor: Friends of the Earth, LifeMosaic, and Sawit Watch. At: http://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/losingground.pdf (accessed 12 Dec. 2016).
Marx Karl. 1986. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume One. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Mbembe Achille. 2001. On the Postcolony. Berkeley: University of California Press.
McCarthy John. 2012. Certifying in Contested Spaces: Private Regulation in Indonesian Forestry and Oil Palm. Third World Quarterly 33, 10: 1871–88.
McCarthy John and Zen Zahari. 2010. Regulating the Oil Palm Boom: Assessing the Effectiveness of Environmental Governance Approaches to Agro-Industrial Pollution in Indonesia. Law and Policy 32, 1: 153–79.
McKeown Adam. 2012. How the Box Became Black: Brokers and the Creation of the Free Migrant. Pacific Affairs 85, 1: 2145.
Milieudefensie Lembaga Gemawan, and Rakyat Borneo KONTAK. 2007. Policy, Practice, Pride and Prejudice: Review of Legal, Environmental and Social Practices of Oil Palm Plantation Companies of the Wilmar Group in Sambas District, West Kalimantan (Indonesia). Amsterdam: Mileudefensie.
Murray Martin J. 1992. ‘White Gold’ or ‘White Blood’? The Rubber Plantations of Colonial Indochina, 1910–40. Journal of Peasant Studies 19, 3–4: 4167.
Pelzer Karl J. 1978. Planter and Peasant: Colonial Policy and the Agrarian Struggle in East Sumatra 1863–1947. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Pelzer Karl J. 1982. Planters against Peasants: The Agrarian Struggle in East Sumatra 1947–1958. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Polanyi Karl. 1944. The Great Transformation. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.
Potter Lesley. 2012. New Transmigration ‘Paradigm’ in Indonesia: Examples from Kalimantan. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 53, 3: 272–87.
Pye Oliver. 2015. Transnational Space and Workers' Struggles: Reshaping the Palm Oil Industry in Malaysia. In Kristina Dietz B. E., Pye Oliver, and Brunnengräber Achim, eds., The Political Ecology of Agrofuels. London: Routledge.
Pye Oliver, Daud Ramlah, Harmono Yuyun, and Tatat. 2012. Precarious Lives: Transnational Biographies of Migrant Oil Palm Workers. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 53, 3: 330–42.
Ramasamy P. 1992. Labour Control and Labour Resistance in the Plantations of Colonial Malaya. In Daniel E. V., Bernstein H., and Brass T., eds., Plantations, Proletarians and Peasants in Colonial Asia. London: Frank Cass.
Robertson Philip S. 2008. Migrant Workers in Malaysia: Issues, Concerns and Points for Action. Washington, D.C.: Fair Labor Association.
Schrauwers Albert. 2001. The “Benevolent” Colonies of Johannes van den Bosch: Continuities in the Administration of Poverty in the Netherlands and Indonesia. Comparative Studies in Society and History 43, 2: 298328.
Schrauwers Albert. 2011. Policing Production: Corporate Governmentality and the Cultivation System. Focaal 61: 7590.
Institute Schuster. 2013. Palm Oil Controversies. Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. At: http://www.schusterinstituteinvestigations.org/#!slavery-in-palm-oil-industry/cgit (accessed 28 Nov. 2016).
Siagian Saurlin P., Amin Siahaan Buyung, and Khairani Nur. 2011. The Loss of Reason: Human Rights Violations in the Oil Palm Plantations in Indonesia: Lentera-Brot fur die Welt. Study carried out on behalf of Lentera Rakyat, Indonesia, At: https://www.brot-fuer-die-welt.de/fileadmin/mediapool/2_Downloads/Fachinformationen/Aktuell/Aktuell_22_loss-of-reason.pdf (accessed 28 Nov. 2016).
Sinaga Hariati. 2013. Employment and Income of Workers on Indonesian Oil Palm Plantations: Food Crisis at the Micro Level. Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society 1, 2: 6478.
Sirait Martua. 2009. Indigenous Peoples and Oil Palm Expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The Hague: Cordaid.
Situmorang Manginar. 2010. Strengthening the Peasant and Plantation Workers' Movement in North Sumatra. Asia Monitor Resource Centre 74. At: www.amrc.org.hk/content/strengthening-peasant-and-plantation-workers-movement-north-sumatra (accessed 28 Nov. 2016).
Stoler Ann Laura. 1995. Capitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra's Plantation Belt, 1870–1979. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Kita Tenaga and PAN. 2002. Poisoned and Silenced: A Study of Pesticide Poisoning in the Plantations. Penang: Pesticide Action Network. At: http://www.panap.net/en/p/post/pesticides-info-database/2346 (accessed 28 Nov. 2016).
Tjandraningsih Indrasari. 2012. State-Sponsored Precarious Work in Indonesia. American Behavioral Sciences 57, 4: 403–19.
Wakker Eric. 2005. Greasy Palms: The Social and Ecological Impacts of Large Scale Oil Palm Plantation in Southeast Asia. London, Edinburgh, Bogor: Friends of the Earth.
White Ben. 2015. Revelatory Crises on the Commodity Frontier: The 1930s Slump in the Netherlands Indies. Presented at the workshop “Global Capitalism and Commodity Frontiers: A Research Agenda,” 4–5 Dec., Amsterdam.
White Ben. 2016. Remembering the Indonesian Peasants’ Front and Plantation Workers’ Union (1945–1966). Journal of Peasant Studies 43, 1: 112.
World Bank. 2010. Indonesia Jobs Report: Towards Better Jobs and Security for All. Jakarta: World Bank.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 35
Total number of PDF views: 282 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 524 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 18th April 2017 - 19th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.