Child Labor and Human-Rights Abuses Widespread in Indonesia's Palm Oil Industry

While the environmental and animal impacts of the palm oil industry in Indonesia’s rainforests gets a lot of attention, human rights abuses like forced and child labor are less widely known. Now, thanks to an in-depth investigation conducted by Bloomberg Businessweeek, it appears that slavery, child labor and human rights abuses are rife in Indonesia’s booming palm oil industry.

Palm oil and its derivatives are found in thousands of products worldwide, from doughnuts to soap, lipstick to biodiesel. Globally, palm oil consumption has quintupled since 1990. Demand in Asia, where palm oil is widely used in cooking oil and noodles, has driven the growth of a $44 billion industry. In February, exports from Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, hit a five-year high.

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The Bloomberg report focused on abuses on plantation estates controlled by Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK), the world’s fifth-largest palm oil producer. The investigation found evidence of human trafficking, violence against workers, fraud, and apparent slavery on plantation owned by KLK in Indonesia.

According to the report, KLK supplies palm oil to a number of U.S. companies, including Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, California Oils, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever, and 61 million pounds to Cargill. Cargill in turn has sold palm oil and its derivatives to Nestlé, General Mills, Kraft Foods and Kellogg.

The Rainforest Action Network contacted Cargill for a response and it seems like the company is in denial . “At this time, KLK is not in violation of any labor laws where they operate nor are we aware of any investigation of KLK’s labor practices,” said Cargill spokeswoman Susan Eich.

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Are you outraged? Sign this petition calling on Cargill to cut child and slave labor from its supply chain.