A report published on Wednesday (30 November) by Amnesty International has accused some of the major international consumer companies, including Unilever, Nestle and Procter & Gamble of profiting from labour abuses.
The report – the great palm oil scandal: Labour abuses behind big brand names – has claimed that these big brands have sourced palm oil from Indonesian plantations run by Wilmar International and its suppliers on the islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra, where children and women are forced to work in hazardous circumstances.
The Human rights' body has alleged Wilmar, which is world's biggest palm oil company and controls more than 43 percent of the international palm oil trade, of labour abuse. It said that children as young as eight worked in dangerous conditions at palm plantations run by the firm.
Amnesty claimed that it interviewed 120 workers from the palm plantations owned by Wilmar subsidiaries and suppliers in Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia. Investigators found that workers were suffering from injuries caused by paraquat, which is a toxic chemical used in plantations despite being banned in the EU. Laborers were also forced to work long hours to meet ridiculously high targets.
According to the report, nine global companies, including AFAMSA, ADM, Colgate-Palmolive, Elevance, Kellogg's, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever, source palm oil from Singapore-based Wilmar to use in their products and are contributing equally to the labour abuse.
"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.
"These findings will shock any consumer who thinks they are making ethical choices in the supermarket when they buy products that claim to use sustainable palm oil," Meghna Abraham, Senior Investigator at Amnesty International, said.
"Something is wrong when nine companies turning over a combined revenue of $325 billion in 2015 are unable to do something about the atrocious treatment of palm oil workers earning a pittance," Abraham added.
Amnesty said that it has decided to campaign against insecure employment environment, where labors were forced to work without pension or health insurance. It said that it will ask the companies to answer their customers and tell them whether the palm oil used in famous products like Magnum ice-cream, Colgate toothpaste, Dove cosmetics and Knorr soup comes from Wilmar Indonesian plantation.
According to reports, when the human rights body contacted Wilmar regarding the investigation, it welcomed it and said "We welcome this report, as it helps highlight labour issues within the wider palm oil industry and in Indonesia specifically. Wilmar has put a lot of effort and systems in place to deal with labour and social issues in our operations and supply chain".
It added that finding a solution requires cooperation between governments, companies and civil society organizations.
Other companies like Nestle and Procter & Gamble also came forward and said that they are working with Wilmar. However, Nestle added, "Practices such as those identified in Amnesty International's report have no place in our supply chain."
On the other hand, Kellogg Co said that if it finds any kind of violations in supply, it would discuss remedial actions with its suppliers. "If the concerns are not adequately addressed, we take action to remove them from our chain," the US snack and breakfast food company added, according to Reuters.