Brands attacked over palm oil slavery

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
30 November 2018

Brands have been accused of “profiting from modern slavery” by continuing to source palm oil from a company sanctioned by an industry body.

An investigation by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has confirmed forced labour, complicity in the trafficking of workers and “dire” living conditions at FGV Holdings Berhad in Malaysia.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) said Procter & Gamble, Hershey’s, Unilever, Mars, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Cargill sourced palm oil from FGV, “despite the fact that all companies have policies against sourcing from these kinds of bad actors”.

The RSPO investigation, sparked by media reports in 2015, found more than 25 breaches of its sustainability certification criteria. It has directed FGV, formerly FELDA Global Ventures, to implement a special labour policy in respect of all migrant workers, to provide decent living conditions and to “undertake a full legal and operational audit and review of its current employment contract practices/processes/policies/procedures for all workers”.

Fatah Sadaoui, palm oil campaign manager for pressure group SumOfUs, said: “Big brands like Procter & Gamble are profiting from FELDA’s modern day slavery practices and must be held accountable.  

“To date, Procter & Gamble has failed to hold FELDA accountable for forced labour on its plantations, despite over 160,000 global consumers calling for action.”

Glorene Das, executive director with Malaysian human rights organisation Tenaganita, said: “The RSPO’s confirmation of forced labour on FELDA’s plantations is a damning indictment of the company’s modern day slavery practices and its complicity in human trafficking.

“The Malaysian government, global palm oil buyers, financiers, and the international community must hold palm oil companies to account, especially government-linked companies like FELDA. We cannot allow these crimes to persist.”

Separately, the RSPO has sanctioned Indofood, an Indonesia-based palm oil supplier, after finding more than 20 violations of RSPO criteria and 10 breaches of Indonesian labour law. Firms including Nestlé have already cut ties with Indofood.

RAN has criticised the RSPO for not going far enough.

Robin Averbeck, agribusiness campaign director for RAN, said: “With this [FGV] decision, the RSPO has again failed to adequately hold accountable one of its member companies found guilty of widespread illegal labour violations.

“The RSPO has issued a slap on the wrist to both FELDA and Indofood, while allowing these companies to continue selling certified ‘sustainable’ palm oil rife with illegality and labor violations. Such hypocrisy cannot last long in the global marketplace and risks the complete collapse of the RSPO’s credibility.”

A P&G spokesperson said: “We take these allegations very seriously and are reaching out directly to FGV to understand the specific actions they will be taking to address RSPO’s findings.

“We are committed to responsible sourcing of palm oil which includes respecting human and labour rights. Our Business Partner Guidelines establish clear expectations of our direct business partners, including an expectation to respect internationally recognised human rights, comply with all applicable laws and conduct their business ethically and responsibly.”

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