The Human Side of the Problem

Palm oil is one of the key commodities at the centre of the global forced labour problem. While the environmental impact related to palm oil has been on the industry’s radar for some time, human rights and forced labour abuses in the supply chain of the world’s most traded oil have long been ignored. In 2018, we commissioned a report by the Fair Labor Association to look at the extent of this complex issue, as well as the role of the consumer goods industry in driving change and eradicating the problem. The report revealed many indicators of forced labour associated with the sourcing of palm oil, including debt bondage, passport retention, recruitment fees, and restricted worker movement — abuses all addressed by our Priority Industry Principles.

The palm oil trade spans across the globe but there are regional hotspots where focused action must take place. In Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia are leading producers, together accounting for 86% of global production and employ as many as 3.5 million workers to maintain plantations and harvest the oil. Meanwhile, Colombia, South America’s largest palm oil producer, plans to increase its production six-fold by 2020. The CGF has hosted multi-stakeholder advocacy events in these countries and others to engage our members, suppliers and recruiters in a common dialogue on the issue.

Due to the global prevalence of palm oil production, members of the HRC recognise the high potential for human rights abuses in their supply chains if they are purchasers of palm oil. As such, members are working with selected suppliers to develop and employ HRDD coverage within their supply chain, from refinery to plantation level, by 2023.

The HRC’s efforts around palm oil are also strengthened by the agenda of CGF’s other working group on palm oil in our environmentally minded Forest Positive Coalition, as well as the Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI), which promotes good social and environmental practices in global supply chains by benchmarking and recognising third-party audit programmes and certification schemes. Together, these groups comprehensively approach the issue of palm oil to address the human rights, environmental and supply chain management concerns which make it a high-risk commodity. Still, our members know that palm oil is here to stay, and we therefore have the obligation to make sure it is sourced in a socially responsible manner.