Palm oil: forced labor, exploited children… Amnesty is sounding the alarm bells

Multinationals such as Nestlé, Colgate and Unilever, which market products made from palm oil produced in Indonesia, say they are “concerned” by these allegations and “willing to cooperate”.

Palm oil is found at the heart of a new dependent report. This time, it is not a question of deforestation, but of the exploitation of children and forced labor. In denounces “systematic violations of human rights” in oil palm plantations in Indonesia, the main producer of this vegetable oil.

The NGO surveyed 120 workers who work for Wilmar, a Singaporean food company and number one palm oil supplier. Amnesty asserts that it is not uncommon to see in these plantations children aged 8 to 14 carrying bags of 12 to 25 kilos, women working “for long hours” for less than the minimum wage, i.e. 2, 50 dollars per day (2.30 euros); or even workers “suffering from serious injuries linked to a highly toxic pesticide” and “forced to work without suitable protective clothing”.

“Lack of transparency”

These abuses, the Wilmar company does not deny. In, the palm oil giant acknowledges that there are “labor issues in the palm oil industry” in Indonesia. However, the country has strict legislation and could condemn these breaches. But very often the law is not enforced.

While Wilmar admits that there are abuses in his plantations, Amnesty points out groups such as Nestlé, Colgate, Unilever, Kellogg’s or Procter & Gamble which market food or cosmetic products made from palm oil supplied by Wilmar, and that we find in our supermarkets. “These companies are turning a blind eye to the exploitation of workers in their production line” and “continue to profit from deplorable illegal practices” laments Amnesty.

And the NGO denounces a “lack of transparency” on the part of these companies which nevertheless assure consumers that their products are certified “sustainable palm oil”. (Roundtable on sustainable palm oil) which brings together several NGOs and professionals, around principles such as transparency, the preservation of natural resources and biodiversity, or even… respect for employees.

“We are ready to cooperate”

Brands were quick to respond to Amnesty’s report. “Practices such as those identified in Amnesty International’s report have no place in our supply chain,” says Nestlé. “We will investigate allegations related to our palm oil purchases, alongside our suppliers.” And the mark of ensuring: “if our suppliers do not meet our requirements, including on labor rights, we will suspend them”. Same tone at Colgate who says he is “concerned about the specific allegations raised by Amnesty International”. “We will hold Wilmar accountable for all questions on this subject” adds the group which assures that it “will not hesitate to terminate any commercial relationship with a supplier who does not respond to concerns relating to labor law and labor rights. the man”. For its part, the multinational Unilever (Cif, Lipton, Magnum, etc.) recognizes “that there is still a lot to be done on human rights and labor issues which are frequent in the sector” and says it is “very willing to cooperate with Amnesty International to investigate the specific grievances they have identified ”.

Along with Malaysia, Indonesia produces over 80% of global palm oil stocks. Faced with a world consumption in sharp increase for twenty years, its production increased from 15.2 million tons in 1995 to 60 million tons in 2015. Environment defenders regularly denounce an ecological disaster linked to the production of this vegetable oil. According to Indonesia, one million hectares of forests are lost every year.

(With AFP)