Social Requirements FAQs

FAQs will be updated as new feedback and data is submitted from the field, but if you have a different query or need advice about applying HCSA Social Requirements, please visit the Helpdesk.

The search box will select all questions that contain your search word – click on the questions presented to see highlighted text.

The High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) is a land use planning tool that enables its members and others using it to avoid deforestation in their commodity production operations and on their farms. Its main function is to differentiate High Carbon Stock forests, and areas with high biodiversity and other conservation values, from land suitable for development.

The HCSA Social Requirements ensure that human rights are respected, and livelihoods are protected in land use planning and development processes. The Social Requirements are based on internationally recognised human rights norms for workers, local communities and indigenous peoples.

Most actors using the HCSA Toolkit will already be applying other sustainability standards which have similar social components. Some elements of the HCSA may have already been addressed under the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) requirements for example and this work does not need to be repeated to meet the HCSA Social Requirements. The HCSA Social Requirements are comprehensive to ensure that actors who are not applying other sustainability standards still fully respect human rights and protect livelihoods when applying the HCSA.

The 14 HCSA Social Requirements can be found in Section A in Module 2 of the HCSA Toolkit. These set out all the relevant human rights that HCSA members and others applying the HCSA must respect as part of their operations. They cover everything from the protection of communities’ food security and culture to labour rights, to the collaborative management of conservation set-asides on community lands.

The Social Requirements Implementation Guide provides detailed guidance on how to implement the 14 Social Requirements.  It is organized in 4 stages - Preparation, Assessment, Negotiation and Operational – which are set out in Table 1 (p. 10).

The Guide describes what needs to be done at each stage, which actors are involved and what the outputs are. Each stage concludes with a quality assurance step including independent verification. The appendices to the Guide provide more technical guidance on particular aspects.

An additional source of information is the HCSA Interim Guidance on How to Develop and Implement Integrated Conservation and Land Use Plans (ICLUPs). This provides further details about some aspects of the implementation of the Social Requirements during the Negotiation and Operational stages.

Training presentations are available that introduce the Social Requirements and the Implementation Guide and give an overview of what needs to be done during each stage of implementation.  Additional training presentations provide information on the implementation of Social Requirement 5 on Protecting Food Security and Livelihoods and on how to conduct a Welfare Impact Assessment.

The HCSA Social Requirements is available in English, Bahasa Indonesian and French.  The Social Requirements Implementation Guide is available in English only.  The training presentations are currently available in English with the view to translate into to Bahasa Indonesia and French in the near future.

During the Preparation stage, the organisation implementing the HCSA designates personnel to oversee the implementation of the Social Requirements (the ‘social team’); conducts a Social Background study and a Land Tenure and Use study; and visits all communities whose lands, land-use or rights may be affected, to seek their initial Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) to go ahead with the assessment and engagement process. If this initial consent is given, affected communities then decide who will act as their representatives and how their subsequent engagement with the process will be conducted.

During the Assessment stage, the developer or implementing organisation continues to engage with the affected communities. It conducts a Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA), and a stand-alone HCSA or integrated HCV-HCSA assessment, which must be carried out by licensed assessors.  Baseline data is also collected for use in subsequent social impact monitoring. The fieldwork required for these assessments may be combined where appropriate.

During the Negotiation stage the developer or implementing organisation presents affected communities with the first draft of an Integrated Conservation and Land Use Plan (ICLUP) based on the results of the assessments. It leads a participatory planning and negotiation process to finalise the ICLUP and associated social policies and procedures. These include grievance procedures and policies on labour rights and conditions, and on non-discrimination. Affected communities then decide whether to give their final FPIC to the ICLUP.  The lands of any community that withholds consent are removed from the ICLUP.

During the Operational stage, land clearance and development begins, areas for local peoples’ use are designated, conservation areas are created, agreed community incentives and benefits are provided, and other social policies and procedures are implemented. The developer or implementing organisation continues to liaise regularly with the affected communities. Periodic social impact monitoring is conducted to ensure that the various social provisions set out in the ICLUP are being implemented effectively, and the rights and livelihoods of affected communities are being respected and protected in practice.

Stakeholders and rightsholders are involved in different ways during the four implementation stages of Preparation, Assessment, Negotiation and Operational.

Their roles are set out in the column on actors in Table 1 of the Social Requirements Implementation Guide (p.10) as well as in the descriptions of what is involved during the various stages.

The HCSA interim Guidance on Integrated Conservation and Land Use Plans (ICLUPs) provides further detail on the role of different actors during the Negotiation and Operational stages.

The affected communities are involved throughout the entire process through their chosen representatives. All community members, and representatives of all sub-groups within communities have the right to be involved and consulted throughout the process, including during the assessments and quality assurance processes.

Developers or implementing organisations must therefore ensure that all community members are invited to participate in order to fulfil their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

The developer’s role is generally conducted by its designated social team, appointed in the first stage, in coordination with the sustainability team. Other senior staff are sometimes involved during the Negotiation stage.

Technical assessors play a leading role during the Assessments stage and in some cases in the Land Tenure and Use Study and in the development of recommendations for the ICLUP. The High Conservation Value Resource Network’s Assessor Licensing Scheme provides independent quality assurance of the integrated HCV-HCSA assessments.

Other stakeholders, such as NGO advisors to affected communities and government officials may be involved at particular points, including in the Negotiations stage.

The HCSA Social Requirements are based on international human rights laws and norms, including various covenants and treaties of the United Nations. These provide for the protection of land rights, labour rights and other areas which may exceed those contained in national laws and practices.

Those implementing the HCSA must adhere to the international standards on these various rights, whether or not these are protected by national laws and practices.  This includes respecting customary laws regarding land rights, for example.

This obligation is set out explicitly in the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) These state that the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights exists independently of states’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations and over and above compliance with national laws and regulations protecting human rights. (See also p.32 in Module 2 of the HCSA Toolkit .

Developers and others implementing the HCSA must have a mutually agreed and documented system for dealing with complaints and grievances from affected communities. This system must be inclusive, comprehensive and transparent, and meet international human rights standards (Social Requirement 10).

In addition, the HCSA has a dedicated Grievance Mechanism. Complaints can be made directly at the online complaint form available here or by downloading the complaint form to be filled in for manual submission available here

While the Social Requirements were developed for application to new developments, they also apply to existing operations. In such cases they are applied when the implementing organisation or developer conducts a standalone HCSA or integrated HCV-HCSA assessment in an existing operation.

Social Requirement 13, on Implementing the Social Requirements when applying the HCSA to existing operations, sets out what steps a developer needs to take in such cases. Appendix 6 of the Social Requirements Implementation Guide contains further details.

The Area of Interest of an operation in which the HCSA Toolkit is being applied includes the development area and the wider landscape around it.  It is determined by the implementing organisation and confirmed by the assessor during the Scoping phase of the HCV-HCSA assessment.  Although there is no specific ‘social’ Area of Interest, the Social Requirements apply to all communities that are likely to be affected in any way by the planned operation located within the Area of Interest and at its periphery (see Question 10).

A definition of the ‘ecological’ Area of Interest is given in the HCV-HCSA Assessment Manual (section 2.3.1), as follows:

The boundary of the Area of Interest must be aligned either to administrative or to natural boundaries such as hydrological catchments or other landscape features. The wider landscape may be determined by:

(a) Identifying the watershed or the geographical land unit containing a cluster of interacting ecosystems

(b) Selecting a unit size that encompasses the plantation concession and a buffer of the surrounding area e.g. 50,000 or 100,000 ha ,or

(c) Using a radius of 5km from the concession.

Affected communities are defined as communities and inhabitants in the Area of Interest whose rights may be affected by the planned development (as set out in the Social Requirements Implementation Guide on Applicability of the Social Requirements (p.6), and in Step 1.3 (p.13) on Engaging with Communities).

Affected communities include communities and inhabitants with legal and customary ownership and/or usage rights over any of the land and resources that may be affected by the planned development.

As Social Requirement 3 on Land Rights states (Social Requirements p.10) ‘The rights of those using lands, who may not be the owners, shall also be recognised.  Such users can include tenants, sharecroppers, farm workers and other companies with leases on the land, or those with legal or informal permits to access and use lands and natural resources.’

User rights are also defined in the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)’s Free, Prior and informed consent FPIC Guide (2015, pp.39 and 120) as: ‘Rights for the use of land and resources that can be defined by local custom, mutual agreements or prescribed by other entities holding access rights.’

Affected communities that are likely to be affected directly and significantly by the planned developed must be included fully in all steps of the engagement, assessment and negotiation process. They have the right to give or withhold their consent to the planned development (Social Requirements 2 and 7).

Communities that are likely to be affected indirectly by the planned operation, generally those located towards the periphery or even outside the borders of the Area of Interest, must also be included in the process of engagement, assessment and negotiation. Potential indirect impacts from the operation may include changes to ecosystem services provision for downstream water users, for example, due to impacts on water quality and quantity.

As set out in the Social Requirements Implementation Guide (p.13),this process of engagement must include all the communities in the area of interest around the planned operation that are likely to be affected by it, and not just those whose lands overlap it directly’.

The developer is responsible for identifying which groups are identified as affected communities, and whether they are designated as being directly or indirectly affected. This is part of its preliminary engagement with communities in the Area of Interest (Step 1.3a) and draws on information gathered as part of the Social Background Study (Step 1.2).

The HCV-HCSA Assessment Manual also provides guidance on this process. Section sets out the following:

‘All affected communities must be included in participatory mapping activities. All communities in a production landscape are likely to be affected in one way or another but focus on communities with legal or customary rights within the concession’.

Developers or implementing organisations must determine whether any recent migrants into the Area of Interest should be identified as affected communities or individuals, according to the criteria set out in Question 10.

This will depend on whether they hold legal or customary land or use rights in the area. This may be the case for mobile indigenous peoples who have recently arrived from elsewhere in their extensive ‘territories’, for example. Alternatively, recent arrivals may have acquired rights from traditional owners, or according to customary law. If so, they must be included in the engagement and assessment process. (See Module 2 of the HCSA Toolkit, page 32)

However, developers and others applying the HCSA Toolkit are not required to include groups or individuals who do not hold any land or user rights in the Area of Interest.

Developers and others applying the HCSA Toolkit are not required to include groups or individuals who arrive in the Area of Interest after the Integrated Conservation Land Use Plan has been finalized, unless they hold customary tenure or use rights. This may be the case for mobile indigenous peoples who were not physically present at the time of the original assessments and whose rights were overlooked as a result.

Any conversion or suspected conversion of legally designated conservation areas should be referred to local regulatory agencies.

As set out in the Social Requirements Implementation Guide (Step 1.3), each affected community in the Area of Interest that have tenure and user rights directly affected by the operation has the right to give or withhold its Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Affected communities are identified by the company in Step 1.3a, as set out in Question 10.

While communities that will only be affected indirectly by the operation must still be included in the engagement, assessment and negotiation process, they do not hold the same FPIC rights as directly affected communities. Their withholding of FPIC cannot prevent the operation going ahead, if the directly affected communities have given their FPIC. The potential impacts of the operations on any of their rights must still be taken into account, however. These impacts must be identified in the assessments and mitigated or compensated as appropriate following consultation and negotiation with the community in question, and with their FPIC to any planned measures.

In situations where some affected communities within the Area of Interest have given their FPIC and others have withheld it, development can only go ahead in the areas where consent has been given if it does not impact those affected communities who have withheld consent.

Communities themselves decide how they will engage with the developer and who will represent them for each aspect of the process. All subgroups present within a community must have the opportunity to be involved in this selection of representatives. This includes original inhabitants and recent arrivals into the area, women, children, youth and elders, and different ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups. The social team of the organisation implementing the HCSA needs to identify the relevant subgroups early in the process and make sure throughout that opportunities are provided for them to participate and be heard.

The implementing organisation or developer cannot automatically assume that existing community leaders - whether traditionally or legally appointed - are representative of communities for the purposes of implementing the HCSA, even when they serve as community representatives in relation to other matters. This is because the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) require that the views of all rightsholders are taken into account, and communities may decide that existing leadership mechanisms are not sufficiently representative (such as of minority subgroups).

Affected communities are entitled to independent legal or technical advice during the process and developers or implementing organisations must ensure that they are aware of this right to independent advice.  Where appropriate, developers may provide logistical and/or financial help to make sure communities can access advisors (Social Requirements Implementation Guide Step 1.3).

Members of each affected community willing to participate in the HCSA development planning and assessment process have the right to elect or appoint their own representatives, who then take part in the engagement, assessment and negotiation processes on their behalf. The ways in which communities are represented in these processes will differ in each case according to what they themselves decide.

The selection of representatives happens during Step 1.3 and is part of the fulfilment of Social Requirement 2: ‘Fair Representation and Agreeing a Process of Consent’.  This step states: ‘Representatives must be freely chosen by communities, and representation must be at the level they choose. This may be separately for each community, for several communities together, or, exceptionally, for separate subgroups within a community, which may be necessary in cases where there are high levels of internal tension or irreconcilable positions’ (Social Requirements Implementation Guide, p.13).

Communities may choose different representatives for different roles. So, while farmers may be designated to take part in participatory mapping exercises, others with different skills may be chosen to represent the community in the negotiations over the Integrated Conservation Land Use Plan. Different independent advisors may also be involved at different stages for the same reason. (See Question 15)

Social Requirement 7 states that those implementing the HCSA must document the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process and its outcomes, including negotiated agreements and compensation arrangements.

Full records must be kept of all meetings, including lists of participants, attendance sheets, and full minutes, both written and recorded where possible, and these should be signed by representatives of all attending parties.

All agreements, including signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), Integrated Conservation and Land Use Plans (ICLUPS), arrangements on management and monitoring of conservation areas, and other social policies and procedures, must be fully documented in appropriate formats that are accessible to community members (see Module 2 of The HCSA Toolkit, p.20).

Documentation of all stages of the FPIC process must be kept. This includes during the Preparation stage, when the initial FPIC of affected communities is sought for the various assessments to go ahead, and at the end of the negotiation of the ICLUP prior to the start of land clearance, when their final and legally binding FPIC is sought for the development to go ahead. This final FPIC must be legalised, such as through a notarised agreement (see Module 2 of the HCSA Toolkit, p.39).

The HCSA is currently developing quality assurance mechanisms which will include independent verification. This is required for each stage of the FPIC process following the four 'gates’, which are the points at which affected communities can give or withhold their FPIC to continuing with the engagement, assessment and negotiation processes.

Independent verification will involve assessing the extent to which each stage of the process has met the relevant criteria necessary to ensure that all the tenets of FPIC are being fulfilled. These are that consent is given freely, without coercion, prior to the start of any activities and with full information provided to affected communities on all aspects.

A list of the records required to document consultation processes during the HCV-HCSA assessment is provided in Annex 4 of the Assessment Manual. This provides some guidance on what to document in the FPIC process.

The implementing organisation must have initiated the Free. Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process with affected communities and secured their consent to the conduct of the HCV-HCSA assessment, prior to the arrival of the assessment team. This is one of four preconditions that assessors must verify before proceeding with the assessment, including through on-the-ground checks that are conducted during a Scoping visit. See HCV-HCSA Assessment Manual section 2.2.

If this Scoping study concludes that any of the preconditions have not been met, the assessment must not proceed. It could either be cancelled, or it could be put on hold until the implementing organisation provides sufficient evidence that the FPIC process has indeed been initiated and affected communities have consented to the assessment being conducted (see HCSA Advice Note 1).

Sampling communities is not sufficient in the full HCV-HCSA assessment - all affected communities must be involved. However, assessors can sample affected communities during the Scoping study stage of this assessment, in order to carry out spot checks on the status of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process, and gather information they need to prepare for the main fieldwork.

Where this is done, a range of communities with different characteristics should be selected, whether geographical, political, ethnicity or religion of occupants, and economic. The HCV-HCSA Assessment Manual provides further guidance on visiting a sample of communities (section p.18).

The full HCV-HCSA assessment, and most other aspects of the engagement, assessment, and negotiation processes, must be conducted with all affected communities. This includes all elements of the FPIC process, and most aspects of all the assessments. This is necessary to ensure that the rights of all rightsholders are being respected.

The collection of baseline data may involve sampling of individuals within communities, and here systematic sampling of households may be used or, if the most relevant subgroups are known in advance, stratified random sampling methods may be appropriate, to ensure representatives of each subgroup are covered.

Consultations with affected communities are conducted as part of the HCV-HCSA assessment, and during negotiations on the Integrated Conservation Land Use Plan (ICLUP).

All community members who may be affected by the planned development must have the opportunity to be involved and have their views taken into account during these consultations. However, not all community members will choose to take part in these processes, and in some cases affected communities may designate representatives to play this role on their behalf. To ensure that all members have the opportunity to participate if they chose to, all affected communities must be notified well in advance of planned consultative meetings. These should take place at locations that are easily accessible, at timings that are likely to be suitable for community members and be conducted in local languages.

The results of all assessments must be shared with affected communities and concerned stakeholders in appropriate, accessible formats. For the specific requirements for consultation on the results of the HCV-HCSA assessment see section 2.7 of the HCV-HCSA Assessment Manual (pages 38-40). This assessment generates a draft conservation map and conservation management recommendations, which must be shared in order to obtain the views and recommendations of affected communities. These must be included in the assessment report. This is part of the fulfilment of the ‘Informed’ tenet of Free, Prior and Informed consent (FPIC).

Specific requirements on consultation and FPIC procedures over the proposed ICLUP are set out in detail in the HCSA interim ICLUP guidance (section on negotiation, pp. 14-35).

If community members and/or their representatives are not fully involved at all stages of the process, then the process cannot be deemed to have fulfilled the tenets of FPIC and meet the HCSA Social Requirements.

Customary lands must be mapped by assessors, with the participation of communities, whether or not they are recognized as legally valid. This is done through participatory mapping, and good practice methodology for this process is set out in detail in Appendix 5 of the Social Requirements Implementation Guide.

Preliminary participatory mapping takes place as part of the Land Tenure and Use Study in Step 1.4, with more comprehensive mapping then conducted as part of the Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (Step 2.2) and the HCV-HCSA assessment (Step 2.3b).

Under the HCSA Social Requirements, and in keeping with internationally recognised human rights standards, customary or traditional tenure and use rights must be respected whether or not they are recognised in national or regional regulations. Developers and others applying the HCSA must therefore respect these rights in order to fulfil the Social Requirements. (See Question 5).

In settings with high population density and/or land scarcity, it may be challenging to identify sufficient land during the assessment stage to allocate for the protection of the food security and livelihoods of affected communities, in keeping with Social Requirement 5.

Despite any such constraints, assessors and developers must ensure that sufficient land is allocated to meet local peoples’ needs as part of the Integrated Conservation and Land Use Plan. Social Requirement 5 stipulates a minimum allocation of 0.5 hectares of land per person for this purpose.

Assessors can take various factors into account when determining the amount of land to allocate for this purpose.  These include the role of other livelihood strategies in food security; the expected economic impacts of the planned operation; the current land usage for farming; overall land availability and suitability, and projected population growth.

In some settings, exceptions to the 0.5ha minimum allocation may be possible, with the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of affected communities, as follows:

  • Current regulations already specify community land allocations that may be sufficient
  • Agriculture no longer plays a key role in the food security and livelihoods of the affected community
  • Population densities make it unachievable
  • Farming activities are relatively recent, and customary and user rights are not well-established
  • Employment creation and other positive impacts may reduce reliance on agriculture

Further guidance on this issue is given in Social Requirement 5; in Step 2.6.3 of the HCV-HCSA assessment; and in Advice Note 01.

Training Presentation 2 on Social Requirement 5 provides additional guidance on how to determine land allocations for local peoples’ needs.

In such situations, assuming that affected communities have consented to participate in the engagement and assessment process, High Carbon Stock forests and High Conservation Value (HCV) areas would still be identified as such in the HCV-HCSA assessment report, and the community decision against conservation of them would be reported.

If affected communities take a final decision that they do not consent to conserving areas over which they hold rights, but which are deemed essential to conserve in order to meet the requirements of the HCSA, their lands must be removed from the Integrated Conservation Land Use Plan (ICLUP) and from the planned development. If they have yet to take a final decision, this can be flagged as an issue that needs to be further explored in the negotiation stage.

There may be conflicts between affected communities in an Area of Interest, related to land or other disputes. Developers and assessors should be aware of any such conflicts, which should have been identified by the Social Background Study (Step 1.2) and in field assessments. They must take them into account in their subsequent engagements with the affected communities.

The HCSA Interim Integrated Conservation Land Use Plan guidance sets out some pointers on the resolution of such conflicts (pages 53-54), as well as conflicts related to recent settlements and to community land rights and land use claims.

Conflicts may also arise as a result of the engagement, assessment and negotiation processes themselves, especially in cases where some affected communities want to consent to a planned operation, but others want to reject it. Disagreements may arise over particular aspects or details, including those related to conservation. If any affected communities decide to withhold their consent at any stage of the process, this decision must be fully respected, and their land removed from the operational area.

Depending on the stage at which consent is withheld or withdrawn, the areas occupied and used by these communities may not be included in assessments or in the ICLUP. Other communities within the Area of Interest can still give their own consent to proceed with the process, however, as set out in Question 13, and the decision to proceed or not will lie with the developer.

Developers can use existing reports, such as Social and Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIAs), to inform their activities during the Preparation stage, as long as the studies are of reasonable quality and were carried out less than three years prior to the completion of the Preparation Stage. However, such reports cannot replace any of the studies or assessments required as part of the HCSA.

All relevant reports related to the Area of Interest should anyway be collated as part of the Social Background Study which is conducted by the developer in Step 1.2 (see Appendix 2 of the Social Requirements Implementation Guide). These include SEIAs that have already been commissioned by the developer before the start of the HCSA process, as well as studies carried out for other purposes and commissioned by other parties.