Palm oil is used in products ranging from foods to cosmetics © 123RF
Palm oil is used in products ranging from foods to cosmetics © 123RF

'Serious abuses' found in big brands' palm oil supply chains

Amnesty International (AI) claims to have found “serious human rights abuses” on plantations supplying palm oil to firms including Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg’s and Nestlé.

AI said it found forced labour, child labour, gender discrimination and exploitative and dangerous working practices that put the health of workers at risk on Indonesian plantations supplying Wilmar, the world’s largest processor and supplier of palm oil.

In a report AI said the problems were “not isolated incidents but due to systemic business practices by Wilmar’s subsidiaries and suppliers, in particular the low level of wages, the use of targets and piece rates, and the use of a complex system of financial and other penalties”.

Wilmar, which controls more than 43% of the global trade in palm oil, said in a statement to AI that “child labour has no place in Wilmar’s operations” and “disciplinary action is taken against repeat offenders”. But AI said Wilmar’s “working practices, in particular the use of high targets and penalties, have resulted in children working”.

AI said workers were threatened with not being paid or losing their jobs for not completing tasks, even if this required breaching overtime limits, and “these kinds of practices amount to forced labour”.

The charity said workers had to use dangerous chemicals, including one banned in the EU and other countries, without proper training or proper protective equipment.

The report said nine food and household goods companies were supplied by Wilmar and these are: Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Agrupación de Fabricantes de Aceites Marinos (AFAMSA), Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), Colgate-Palmolive, Elevance Renewable Sciences, The Kellogg Company, Nestlé and Reckitt Benckiser.

“As buyers of Wilmar’s oil, these companies have a responsibility to ensure their supply chain is free from abuses such as child labour and forced labour,” said AI.

“This is a well-accepted international standard. Amnesty International contacted each of the buyers to ask for their response to the organisation’s findings and to seek information on what due diligence they undertook on their supply of palm oil.

“All but one of these companies are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and claim they use sustainable palm oil on their websites or product labels. None of the companies we contacted denied that the abuses were taking place, nor did any provide specific examples of action taken to deal with labour rights abuses in Wilmar’s operations.”

In a statement to AI Wilmar said: “Our workers form the backbone of our company, and we are committed to ensuring that they are treated fairly and with respect.

“This is reflected in our No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation policy in which one of the core provisions stipulates recognising and respecting the rights of all workers, including contract, temporary and migrant workers.”

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