SAN FRANCISCO–Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Indonesian advocacy group, Sawit Watch, find continued evidence of abusive recruitment and labor practices and child labor on palm oil plantations in Indonesia. The groups’ findings center on one of the world’s most significant palm oil producers, Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK), which is a major supplier to U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill. This comes amidst a growing trend of investigations documenting controversial labor practices throughout Indonesia’s palm oil plantation industry.
In addition to RAN and Sawit Watch’s findings, Cargill’s palm oil supplier KLK was also recently the focus of a nine-month field investigation conducted by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University published on July 18 at Businessweek.com. The investigation, which took place on a dozen different plantations across Sumatra and Borneo, found extensive evidence of workers, many of whom were children, being defrauded, abused, and held captive by KLK’s labor management subcontractor.
"Palm oil is in almost 50 percent of the packaged goods on our grocery story shelves, and we’re now finding that the oil is connected to horrible forced and child labor scandals as well as devastating environmental practices,” said Robin Averbeck, a forest campaigner with Rainforest Action Network. “The accounts of rampant worker abuse and child labor on plantations that supply palm oil to Cargill, the US’s largest privately held company, are alarming and inexcusable. The bottom line is Cargill needs to clean up its supply chain to ensure its palm oil aligns with the values of its customers.”
Rainforest Action Network first publicly confronted Cargill’s palm oil supplier KLK with evidence of forced and child labor on its plantations in 2010. In 2012, Sawit Watch conducted investigations on a KLK plantation in Kalimantan. The group’s interviews included a 14-year old boy who reported working seven days a week with no days off since he was 12 years old. The boy claimed he had been provided with a fake ID card that said he was 19.
In July 2013, Sawit Watch conducted a follow up visit to the same KLK plantation and found many child laborers, three of whom they were able to interview. Each child interviewed reported being recruited by middlemen from their hometowns with promises of decent housing, high pay and easy work. The reality was dire living conditions with little food or clean drinking water provided, and wages and work conditions that left children trapped and penniless.
"Although KLK promised at the 2010 RSPO meeting to improve its labor practices and recruitment standards, the reality in the field shows otherwise,” said Fatilda Hasibuan, a labor and human rights lawyer working for Sawit Watch. “In July 2013, Sawit Watch and a local partner found children working inside a KLK plantation. With the international community watching, KLK needs to stop its irresponsible labor practices immediately."
Over the last three years, Cargill received at least 31 shipments of palm oil from KLK, totaling more than 61 million pounds. Cargill has sold palm oil and its derivatives to Nestlé, General Mills, Kraft Foods, and Kellogg.
Thus far, Cargill has defended its supplier KLK. The company told Bloomberg: “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,” says Cargill spokeswoman Susan Eich in an e-mail.”
From the report Sawit Watch compiled from the July 2013 field visit:
Two of the children were told that they owed the recruiter for the cost of the flight and transportation to get from their hometown to the plantation, but they were never told how much they owed. Every month for the first six months, between Rp.500,000 and Rp.700,000 ($49-69 USD) was deducted from their salary, and after six months working, they received a total of Rp.1,798,000 (about $176 USD, or less than $1 a day). The cost of equipment needed for the work was then also deducted from this amount.
None of the children had contracts with the recruiter or the company but they did have fake IDs with forged ages. However, the recruiter held their fake IDs and important documents, including diplomas, to ensure they couldn’t leave plantation. One of the children mentioned that he received physical and verbal abuse when he made mistakes.
The children live in a wooden camp with limited electricity and clean water supply. The company says it will supply clean water once every two weeks, but clean water often only comes once a month or less. When they run out of clean water, they cook, drink and bathe from a trench where the plantation’s waste also runs.
For More Information See:
Exposed: Child Labor in the US Food Supply (includes photos)
Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, please visit: www.ran.org