Some of the world’s biggest companies – including Colgate, Nestlé and Unilever – are contributing to child labour and wretched conditions on palm oil plantations.The issue in depth
Child Exploitation in depth
Everything you need to know
The world’s most popular food and household companies are selling food, cosmetics and other everyday staples containing palm oil tainted by shocking human rights abuses in Indonesia, with children as young as eight working in hazardous conditions.
For Amnesty International’s report, The Great Palm Oil Scandal, Amnesty spoke to 120 workers who work on palm plantations owned by two Wilmar subsidiaries and three Wilmar suppliers in Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia. Singapore-based agri-business Wilmar, is the world’s biggest palm oil grower.
The investigation exposed a wide range of abuses, most shockingly, children as young as eight doing hazardous, hard physical work, sometimes dropping out of school to help their parents on the plantation. The report also revealed:
- women forced to work long hours under the threat of having their pay cut, paid below minimum wage – earning as little as US$2.50 a day in extreme cases – and kept in insecure employment without pensions or health insurance
- Workers suffering severe injuries from paraquat, an acutely toxic chemical still used in the plantations despite being banned in the EU and by Wilmar itself
- workers being made to work outdoors without adequate safety equipment despite the risks of respiratory damage from hazardous levels of pollution caused by forest fires during August to October 2015
- workers having to work long hours to meet ridiculously high targets, some of which involve highly physically demanding tasks such as operating heavy manual equipment to cut fruit from trees 20 meters tall.
Attempting to meet targets can leave workers in significant physical pain, and they also face a range of penalties for things like not picking up palm fruits on the ground and picking unripe fruit.
A 14-year-old boy who harvests and carries palm fruits on a plantation owned by Wilmar told Amnesty International that he dropped out of school when we was 12 because his father was sick and unable to meet his work targets. He said his 10 and 12-year-old siblings also work on the plantation after school:
“I have helped my father every day for about two years. I studied until sixth grade in school. I left school to help my father because he couldn’t do the work anymore. He was sick…I regret leaving school. I would have liked to have gone to school to become smarter. I would like to become a teacher.”
The physically demanding and tiring work can cause physical damage for young children. A 10-year-old boy who also dropped out of school to help his father, who works for a Wilmar supplier, when he was eight said he gets up at 6.00 AM to gather and carry away loose palm fruit. He said he works for six hours every day, except Sunday.Close
Wilmar acknowledged that there are ongoing labour issues in its operations. Despite these abuses, three of the five palm growers that Amnesty investigated in Indonesia are certified as producing “sustainable” palm oil.Read More
Wilmar-run palm oil plantations in Indonesia supply palm oil to nine global firms: AFAMSA, ADM, Colgate-Palmolive, Elevance, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever.
“Companies are turning a blind eye to exploitation of workers in their supply chain. 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 International. “These findings will shock any consumer who thinks they are making ethical choices in the supermarket when they buy products that claim to use sustainable palm oil.”
“Corporate giants like Colgate, Nestlé and Unilever assure consumers that their products use ‘sustainable palm oil’, but our findings reveal that the palm oil is anything but. There is nothing sustainable about palm oil that is produced using child labour and forced labour.
“Something is wrong when nine companies turning over a combined revenue of $325 billion in 2015 are unable to do something about the atrocious treatment of palm oil workers earning a pittance.”Close
What we’re asking
Amnesty International is calling on Wilmar to actively inspect its palm oil supply chain for labour risks and abuses, and address harms suffered to ensure labour conditions on its plantations and on those operated by its suppliers comply with Indonesian law.Read More
Amnesty is campaigning for greater accountability for labour abuses in the palm oil industry by calling on Wilmar’s buyers and popular brands (Colgate-Palmolive; Nestle; Kellogg’s, P&G; Unilever; and Mondelez International, KitKat, Special K) to make to conduct adequate human rights checks in relation to where it sources its palm oil from.Close