JAKARTA — Global consumer companies, including Unilever, Nestle, Kellogg and Procter & Gamble, have sourced palm oil from Indonesian plantations where labour abuses were uncovered, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Children as young as eight worked in “hazardous” conditions at palm plantations run by Singapore-based Wilmar International Ltd and its suppliers on the Indonesian islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra, Amnesty said in a report.
Amnesty, which said it interviewed 120 workers, alleges that many of them worked long hours for low pay and without adequate safety equipment.
The palm oil from these plantations could be traced to nine multinational companies, it said.
This picture taken on September 16, 2015 shows a girl pushing a cart while working at a palm oil plantation area in Pelalawan, Riau province in Indonesia's Sumatra island. Multinational companies are selling consumer products containing palm oil from Indonesian plantations where workers suffer rights abuses, Amnesty International warned on November 30, listing problems including child labour and exposure to toxic chemicals.
“Despite promising customers that there will be no exploitation in their palm oil supply chains, big brands continue to profit from appalling abuses,” said Meghna Abraham, senior investigator at Amnesty.
Other companies operating palm plantations in Indonesia include Golden Agri-Resources Ltd, Indofood Agri Resources Ltd and PT Astra Agro Lestari Tbk.
Even though Indonesia has strong labour laws under which most of the abuses can amount to criminal offences, these laws are poorly enforced by the government, Amnesty said.
Wilmar said it welcomed the NGO’s report, which helps to highlight labor issues within the broader palm oil industry, but added that finding a solution requires the collaboration of governments, companies and civil society organizations.
“We acknowledge that there are ongoing labor issues in the palm oil industry, and these issues could affect any palm company operating in Indonesia,” it said.
This picture taken on September 16, 2015 shows 13-year-old Indonesian girl Asnimawati working at a palm oil plantation area in Pelalawan, Riau province in Indonesia's Sumatra island. Multinational companies are selling consumer products containing palm oil from Indonesian plantations where workers suffer rights abuses, Amnesty International warned on November 30, listing problems including child labour and exposure to toxic chemicals
Wilmar supplies around 10 per cent of the total palm oil used in Nestle’s products, the Swiss food giant said in an email. Nestle said it is working with Wilmar to improve the traceability of the commodity.
“Practices such as those identified in Amnesty International’s report have no place in our supply chain,” Nestle said. The company said it would investigate allegations related to its purchase of palm oil along with its suppliers.
Procter & Gamble also said in an email it is working with Wilmar to “ensure they can remedy any potential human rights infringements in their supply chain.”
Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, used in everything from snacks and soaps to cosmetics and biofuels. The sector employs millions, and plantation operators say it is difficult to have complete oversight of labor conditions.
No company would “consciously” hire underage labour as that is against the law, but some plantation workers get their children to help out, Sumarjono Saragih, an official at the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, told Reuters by telephone.
“If children want to help their parents, companies cannot forbid that,” Saragih said.
The government has been trying to reduce child labour by giving subsidies and other assistance to families, Maruli Hasoloan, a senior official at the manpower ministry, told Reuters in an email.
The ministry will also study working conditions at palm plantations and improve labor protection in Indonesia, he said.
Agus Justianto, an official at Indonesia’s environment ministry, said that a company found guilty of labor violations could get its permit revoked, but it is “not in the environment ministry’s domain.”
These huge corporations and conglomerates outsource to developing countries because the labor is so cheap. They don't ask questions or investigate social or ethical issues, labor laws, child labor, company policies or environmental impact. If any ethical questions pop up they have well paid damage control people and lawyers to cover their lily white asses. That's how I see it.