The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Canadian supply chain consultancy Ulula are collaborating to introduce a simple mobile phone-based mechanism to report potential workers’ incidents and abuses on palm oil plantations.

The production of industrial agri crops, including palm oil, had become a debated topic due to social and environmental concerns, with the palm oil supply chain being one of the most difficult to monitor because of its high complexity, said RSPO in a 12 June statement.

The large scale of oil palm plantations also presented a challenge for monitoring labour rights and working conditions, which RSPO said had resulted in criticism and demands for industry reform.

To address these issues, RSPO and Ulula had started a pilot project in the course of an independent field verification related to a complaint case in North Sumatra, Indonesia, where they intended to test Ulula’s newly developed solution for the first time.

The tool consisted of an application that had been made freely available for mobile phones and which would enable workers to submit anonymous complaints in the case of intimidation or retaliation.

They would also have the option to provide their contact details, which would allow RSPO to follow up on complaints and direct the workers to take a brief survey to assess the risks they faced, the organisation said.

“The Ulula platform offers an opportunity to reach palm oil workers directly and anonymously through simple mobile phones to make them more visible across the supply chain,” said Ulula founder Antoine Heuty.

“Worker engagement technology offers a scalable mechanism for RSPO members to create more effective and continuous feedback and monitoring systems that will contribute to better social and business outcomes for all,” Heuty added.

RSPO and Ulula said they would build on the initial trial to create a system that would enable RSPO to better support its members and partners in monitoring labour conditions and in providing a platform for complaints and feedback direct to the RSPO.

The organisations also intended to collaborate with growers, traders and third parties to develop more standardised worker engagement tools to support labour management and simplify reporting.

“It is vitally important that RSPO continue to innovate through the testing of new technologies, just as we did with the GeoRSPO mapping platform, displaying RSPO members’ concession maps. Collaborating with providers like Ulula presents the opportunity to effectively address one of the most pressing challenges in the palm oil industry,” said Javin Tan, RSPO strategic projects director.