Human rights NGO Amnesty International has accused Indonesian palm oil giant Wilmar International of contributing to child labour, forced labour and dangerous working practices at its own or third party plantations.
In a report released on 30 November, Amnesty International has also accused nine consumer goods companies of sourcing palm oil from refineries where the oil has been directly supplied or been mixed with palm oil produced on plantations where there are severe labour rights abuses. The companies it names are: Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), Agrupación de Fabricantes de Aceites Marinos (AFAMSA), Colgate-Palmolive, Elevance Renewabe Sciences, The Kellogg Company (Kellogg’s), Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever.
Amnesty International interviewed 120 plantation workers on plantations directly owned by two Wilmar subsidiaries (PT Perkebunan Milano and PT Daya Labuhan) and on plantations owned by three companies that supply oil to Wilmar’s Indonesian refineries (PT Sarana Prima Multi Niaga, PT Abdi Budi Mulia and PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada, part of the BEST Group).
The NGO said that abuses on the plantations of Wilmar and its suppliers included forced labour and child labour, gender discrimination, and exploitative and dangerous working practices that put the health of workers at risk.
“The abuses identified 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’ (where workers are paid based on tasks completed rather than hours worked), and the use of a complex system of financial and other penalties. Workers, especially women, are employed under casual work arrangements, which make them vulnerable to abuses.”
Amnesty International said it had documented evidence of the involvement of children in hazardous work on plantations; and of the use of the herbicide paraquat, which is banned in the EU and by Wilmar itself.
It said that as buyers of Wilmar’s palm oil, the nine companies it named had a responsibility to ensure their supply chain was free from abuses such as child and forced labour.
“Reckitt Benckiser confirmed that palm derivatives sourced from Wilmar were used to manufacture bar soap. Kellogg’s confirmed that palm oil sourced from the identified Wilmar refineries went into Pringles chips made and distributed in China by its joint venture with Wilmar. Colgate-Palmolive and Nestlé said none of the products Amnesty International listed contained palm oil from Wilmar’s Indonesia operations. They did not say which of their products do, although both companies acknowledged that they receive palm oil from Wilmar refineries that Amnesty International linked to the plantations investigated for this report. Two other companies (Unilever and Procter & Gamble) did not confirm that the listed products contained palm oil from Wilmar’s Indonesia operations but they also did not correct the list. The other consumer companies offered vague or no responses.”
A day before the report’s publication, Wilmar said it had put a lot of effort and systems in place to deal with labour and social issues.
“We acknowledge that there are ongoing labour issues in the palm oil industry and these issues could affect any palm company operating in Indonesia. The focus on Wilmar, as the largest processor and merchandiser of palm and lauric oils worldwide, is often used to draw attention to problems in the wider palm oil industry.
“In Wilmar’s responses to Amnesty International, we have outlined internal investigations that have been taking place since August 2016, which related to the allegations that Amnesty International raised with regard to two of our operations - PT Daya Labuhan Indah and PT Perkebunan Milano - in North Sumatra.
“Many of the issues mentioned by Amnesty International have also been raised by other civil society organisations. For Wilmar’s refinery suppliers, these are assessed and identified within the Aggregator Refinery Transformation (ART) approach in partnership with The Forest Trust (TFT).”
Perpetua George, assistant general manager for Wilmar Group, sustainability, said: “Many of these highlighted issues need a bigger platform than sustainable certification to resolve; they require collaborations between governments, companies, and civil society organisations like Amnesty International.
“Much like the large steps taken in the implementation of no deforestation commitments, it takes more than just companies to help overcome these issues that affect the lives of plantation workers. We have reached out to Amnesty International to work more collaboratively with the industry and we hope that this can be a reality.”