Com­pa­nies us­ing palm oil tainted by abuse: Amnesty

The Myanmar Times - - International Business -

MULTI­NA­TIONAL com­pa­nies are sell­ing con­sumer prod­ucts con­tain­ing palm oil from In­done­sian plan­ta­tions where work­ers suf­fer rights abuses, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional warned yes­ter­day, list­ing prob­lems in­clud­ing child labour and ex­po­sure to toxic chem­i­cals.

The ed­i­ble veg­etable oil is a key in­gre­di­ent in many ev­ery­day goods, from bis­cuits to sham­poo and make-up, and grow­ing de­mand has led to a boom in the in­dus­try in In­done­sia, which is the world’s top pro­ducer of the com­mod­ity.

But palm oil has long been con­tro­ver­sial, and a new Amnesty re­port said it found a “wide range of abuses” at In­done­sian plan­ta­tions.

Palm oil from the sites could be traced to nine global firms, in­clud­ing Kel­logg’s, Col­gate-Pal­mo­live and Unilever, it said.

Amnesty spoke to 120 work­ers on plan­ta­tions owned by two sub­sidiaries of Sin­ga­pore-based agribusi­ness Wil­mar In­ter­na­tional and three Wil­mar sup­pli­ers, on Su­ma­tra is­land and the In­done­sian part of Bor­neo.

“Com­pa­nies are turn­ing a blind eye to ex­ploita­tion of work­ers in their sup­ply chain,” said Meghna Abra­ham, of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

“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.”

Among the abuses Amnesty said it had un­cov­ered were chil­dren as young as eight do­ing haz­ardous work on plan­ta­tions, and women be­ing forced to toil for long hours for salaries be­low the min­i­mum wage.

Work­ers suf­fered in­juries from paraquat, a toxic weed killer, and were put at risk by ex­po­sure to smog from for­est fires, and had to work long hours to meet “ridicu­lously high tar­gets”, Amnesty said.

The palm oil in­dus­try has been re­peat­edly ac­cused over the years of fail­ing to pro­tect work­ers’ rights and tear­ing down pro­tected rain­for­est to make way for plan­ta­tions, prompt­ing many com­pa­nies to pledge greater ef­forts to im­prove work­ing con­di­tions and halt de­for­esta­tion.

Wil­mar said it “recog­nises and re­spects the rights of all work­ers”, and wel­comed the re­port.

“It helps high­light labour is­sues within the wider palm oil in­dus­try and in In­done­sia specif­i­cally,” Wil­mar said, adding it put great ef­fort into deal­ing with labour is­sues and was al­ready in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions raised in the re­port.

Unilever, which sup­plies a range of top con­sumer prod­ucts from Mag­num ice cream to Dove toi­letries, said it recog­nised that “much more needs to be done to tackle th­ese so­cial is­sues”, and pledged to play “a lead­ing role in ad­dress­ing this chal­lenge”.

Col­gate-Pal­mo­live, whose brands in­clude Col­gate tooth­paste, said it was con­cerned about the al­le­ga­tions and would “hold Wil­mar ac­count­able for ad­dress­ing any is­sues”. –

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