Crack Down on Human Rights Abuses at Palm Oil Plantations


Target: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)

Goal: Suspend certification for palm growers violating human rights standards

Recent investigations have found that elements in the supply chain of Malaysian palm oil supplier Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) are guilty of serious human rights violations.  Forced labor, child labor, withheld pay, and fraud were all recently committed at a plantation owned by a KLK shareholder.  This is only one incident among hundreds concerning human rights abuses in the palm oil industry, which employs 3.7 million workers, thousands of whom face mistreatment.

One worker from Indonesia describes how he was lured – alongside other recruits, some of whom were only just teenagers – to a plantation thousands of miles from his home with the promise of $6 a day (about minimum wage).  Upon arrival, he and other workers were forbidden to leave without permission and their wage was dropped to $5, to be withheld for two years until the completion of their contract.  Others were malnourished, sickened by the toxic herbicide Paraquat, or beaten for trying to escape.

Despite such abuses, KLK is “certified sustainable” by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a stakeholder association created to advance the sustainable production of palm oil.  For a grower to qualify for certification, their product must be assessed by disinterested parties as having come from “legal, economically viable, environmentally appropriate, and socially beneficial management and operations.”  A new revision adds, free from “forms of forced or trafficked labor.”

While the RSPO is an admirable association with growing weight in the industry, it’s clear that their criteria for inclusion is not stringent enough.  NGOs across the globe, including Greenpeace, WWF, and the Rainforest Action Network agree that more needs to be done.  RSPO does not require members to be certified, and only 35 percent of growers are. They have yet to suspend a member for disregarding their criteria.


Dear Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,

Despite your work in promoting sustainability in the palm oil industry, basic standards for human rights are not being met.  Contractors working under KLK were recently found to have been supplying under-age workers and deceiving others with false promises.  Wages were withheld to keep workers from leaving and several individuals were beaten for attempting to escape.

As the leading association for the advancement of sustainable and humane practices in the palm oil industry, it is your duty to crackdown on producers that are damaging the environment and mistreating workers.  RSPO member growers should be penalized for violating human rights and their certification suspended until the problems are adequately addressed.  I urge you enforce standards of social-sustainability and ensure that workers are free from abuse.  Please do not turn a blind eye on producers violating basic human rights.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: oneVillage Initiative via Flickr

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