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Are P&G and Unilever using child labor to source palm oil for personal care and cosmetic products? Amnesty International says ‘yes’

By Deanna Utroske

30-Nov-2016
Last updated on 01-Dec-2016 at 15:04 GMT2016-12-01T15:04:51Z

Are P&G and Unilever using child labor to source palm oil for personal care and cosmetic products? Amnesty International says ‘yes’

The human rights NGO released a new report today calling out nine multinational corporations that Amnesty found to be buying oil from a company with documented child labor, as well as workers’ safety and rights violations.

In a 148-page report titled, The Great Palm Oil Scandal: Labour Abuses Behind Big Brand Names, Amnesty International documents operations at palm oil plantations and follows the supply to corporations and brands. The companies have no-exploitation and sustainability policies in place, but Amnesty International has found that they aren’t being universally enforced.

“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,” Meghna Abraham, senior investigator at Amnesty International, says in an a post about the new report.

Who got caught

Amnesty International identifies AFAMSA, ADM, Colgate-Palmolive, Elevance, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, and Unilever as companies that sell products made with unethically sourced oil.

Calling for consumer action, one item on the group’s site today encourages consumers to Tweet at companies and company leaders, asking if their popular products are indeed made with the palm oil in question.

Among the companies in personal care, only Reckitt Benckiser replied to Amnesty International about which of its products, specifically, contain oil identified by the investigation.

Wilmar

At the source is Wilmar, the largest agribusiness company in Asia and one of the world’s leading suppliers of palm oil. As Amnesty succinctly puts it in the conclusion of their report, “Wilmar, its subsidiaries PT Perkebunan Milano and PT Daya Labuhan Indah, and its suppliers, PT Abdi Budi Mulia, PT Sarana Prima Multi Niaga, and PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada have abused workers’ rights to just and favourable conditions of work, health, and social security.”

Wilmar was not caught off guard by today’s report. “We are aware that Amnesty International will be focusing on labour rights issues in the palm oil industry in their coming report. We welcome this report, as it helps highlight labour issues within the wider palm oil industry and in Indonesia specifically,” writes the company in a media release.

The company was not only aware of the investigation but also released a long pre-emptive statement yesterday focusing on the company’s labor collaboration efforts with pertinent governments and organizations. “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,” Perpetua George, assistant general manager for Wilmar Group Sustainability, remarks in the company statement.

Next steps

Amnesty International calls on companies buying palm oil from Wilmar to exercise due diligence to ensure workers human rights are not being violated; and the group has advice for governments both producing and importing.

Also, among the many recommendations for change at Wilmar that Amnesty International makes in the report are:

  • Revise targets and piece rates to ensure that they do not result in abuses, exploitation or put people’s health and safety at risk.
  • Immediately end forced labour and ensure that threats of penalties, including those related to targets, of dismissal, loss of privileges, and payments below the minimum wage are not used to exact work involuntarily from people.
  • Stop child labour by addressing the causative factors for children’s involvement in the work by providing fair wages and revising targets and penalties.
  • Ensure that all sprayers are employed on permanent employment contracts and covered under health insurance schemes.
  • Guarantee that no punitive action will be taken against any worker for sharing information with Amnesty International.

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