Allegations made in an Associated Press (AP) article about abuse in the palm oil sector are completely and categorically banned under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) certification standards, the association said on 19 November.

The allegations of sexual harassment and assault as reported by the AP are also being investigated by the secretariat of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC).

The AP report had focused on the alleged brutal treatment of women in the production of palm oil, including sexual abuse, ranging from verbal harassment and threats to rape, Market Beat reported on 18 November.

As part of its investigation, the AP interviewed more than three dozen women and girls from at least 12 companies across Indonesia and Malaysia. Reporters also interviewed nearly 200 other workers, activists, government officials and lawyers.

In a statement 23 November, the CPOPC said it would be looking into the allegations as a matter of urgency.

“The secretariat is appreciative of investigative journalism to highlight issues in the palm oil industry but questions the selective reporting by Associated Press reporters,” the statement said.

“The statements from a few unconfirmed interviews were selected as an intentional slur to harm the image of palm oil as a whole.”

In its response to the allegations, the RSPO said that while the report focused on women, the organisation strived to ensure that its standard recognised and protected the human rights of men, women and children.

“These allegations are in no way representative of our standard, and we condemn such conduct. If incidents like these are happening within our certified members’ concessions, we will investigate immediately. These appear to be selective cases that we are unable to verify without additional details, which so far, the AP or another party have yet to provide,” the RSPO statement said.

Certified plantations were committed to going beyond what was required by law and had committed to a level of transparency that had helped the RSPO have a more open conversation on what was required to change the palm oil industry for the better, the statement read.

The RSPO said it urged any organisation or agency that had additional information about the allegations, or any violations of this nature found on RSPO member plantations, to submit a confidential complaint via its complaints system or its Human Rights Defender hotline.

CPOPC said it would be recommending that the affected palm oil producing countries investigate the reported cases.

“The elimination of sexual discrimination as well as harassment in the workplaces of the palm oil industry is of utmost priority for CPOPC.”

The secretariat said it would be sharing the results of its investigations.

Market Beat said the AP report was part of a wider in-depth look at the industry that exposed widespread abuses in the two countries, including human trafficking, child labour and slavery.