Palm Oil Labor Abuses Linked to Top Brands and Banks

Palm Oil Labor Abuses Linked to Top Brands and Banks

An Associated Press investigation has unearthed stories of labor exploitation, including slavery, child labor, and allegations of rape, associated with palm oil cultivation ( #Associated with palm oil cultivation ) in the Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia and Indonesia.
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Palm Oil is Everywhere
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Palm oil is the world’s leading vegetable oil, and it is nearly impossible to avoid. Not only is it listed as an ingredient with over 200 different names, it is also found in a mind-boggling range of products.
From cosmetics to animal food, from biofuels to hand sanitizer, palm oil is everywhere. It can be found in paints and in plywood, in pesticides and in pills. It is an ingredient in numerous supermarket foodstuffs ( Learn more
The combined output of palm oil from the countries of Malaysia and Indonesia accounts for about 85% of the world’s $65 billion supply. The crop itself is called the oil palm, and it originated in West Africa. It has been cultivated in what are now the modern countries of Malaysia and Indonesia since its introduction in the late 19th century.
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Exploitation and Slavery Alleged on Palm Oil Plantations
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But this globally significant crop is also associated with myriad abuses. The Associated Press (AP) has interviewed over 130 current and former workers, nationals of eight different countries who worked for two dozen different palm oil companies on plantations across much of Malaysia and Indonesia.
Labor Abuses
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Almost all of these workers had complaints about their treatment. Some said they were cheated, threatened, held against their will, or forced to work off unsurmountable debts. Others said the authorities harassed them regularly, even detained them in government facilities.
Some of these people hail from Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya community, a minority group oppressed for their Islamic faith and ethno-cultural differences. The Rohingya workers had fled Myanmar, only to be effectively enslaved in the palm oil industry in Malaysia or Indonesia.
Other workers had been previously enslaved on fishing boats. These people described coming ashore to search for help, only to end up as trafficking victims on plantations, sometimes with the collusion of police.
Major Connections
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The palm oil these laborers were enslaved to produce has been linked by the AP to mills that processed it, and from there to the supply chains of such major Western companies as the makers of Oreo cookies, Lysol cleaners, and Hershey’s chocolate treats.
Witnesses
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AP reporters were also able to witness some abuses firsthand, as well as to review police reports, complaints made to labor unions, videos, and photos smuggled out of plantations. They also reviewed local media stories to help corroborate accounts.
Reporters were also able to track down people who had helped some of the enslaved workers escape. Over a hundred rights advocates, academics, clergy, activists, and government officials were interviewed.
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Exposing Hidden Secrets
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As Gemma Tillack of the U.S.-based Rainforest Action Network explained, “This has been the industry’s hidden secret for decades.” Tillack says that “the buck stops with the banks” because their funding “makes this system of exploitation possible.”
To date, the AP investigation is the most comprehensive dive into labor abuses industrywide. It found abuses of labor on large and small plantations, including a number of plantations who met certification standards set up by the global Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) ( Learn more
In fact, some of the very companies that use the RSPO logo have been accused of continuing to take land from indigenous people and continuing to destroy virgin rainforests ( Learn more
Lexicon:
Associated with palm oil cultivation ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/palm-oil-labor-abuses-linked-to-worlds-top-brands-banks/2020/09/24/d51fa282-fed7-11ea-b0e4-350e4e60cc91_story.html ): source from washingtonpost website

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