The production of palm oil has increased enormously in recent decades. And it has gone hand in hand with land grabbing, deforestation, and massive violations of workers' rights. Mondiaal FNV focuses on plantation workers in Indonesia and Colombia, but pays attention to other parties in the chain as well.
What is the situation of the workers?
A study commissioned by the certification organisation Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has revealed nine serious abuses in the palm oil sector: child labour; forced labour; discrimination; unethical hiring practices; under-payment of the minimum wage; lack of freedom of association; excessive work pressure and overly long working hours; unhealthy and unsafe working conditions; and the ill-treatment of women. The study concerned the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia, but its conclusions also apply to other palm oil-producing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
How does the chain work?
Large companies and plantations dominate the chain. The largest producer, Wilmar, controls 43 percent of the world trade and owns plantations covering almost a quarter of a million hectares. Also among the buyers are many large concerns, such as Unilever and Nestlé. A great deal of palm oil goes to the EU, to be processed in food, cosmetics, and biofuel. The Netherlands is strongly present in the chain, not only as a buyer but also as a financier (including Rabobank) and an investor (including Robeco). The port of Rotterdam is an important hub for the onward transport of palm oil. Various initiatives to achieve sustainability exist, including RSPO and ‘No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation’ (NDPE). We focus on ‘No Exploitation’, because that is where we can have the most impact while supporting trade unions.
Mondiaal FNV wants all workers in the palm oil chain to have access to decent work; wants governments and employers to protect workers’ rights; and wants this protection to be embedded in a practice of corporate social responsibility, corporate social acting, and corporate social investing.
How do we operate?
We have five priorities:
Strengthening trade unions. Our primary focus is on workers on the plantations and in the processing plants. They benefit from strong, representative, and inclusive trade unions that are able to report abuses to governments and companies, negotiate decent work, and engage in social dialogue. This should lead to good collective agreements and to better policies. We help our partners in particular to stand up for the groups that are most affected; women and migrants. By supporting our partners in forging alliances with NGOs and other unions, we help them grow stronger and gain more knowledge and expertise.
Influencing employers. We urge employers to respect trade union rights and to provide a work environment that is safe and healthy for everyone, including women and migrants. We aim to do this through constructive social dialogue with trade unions, which can lead to new and better collective agreements.
Exerting pressure on Dutch financiers and investors. We call on Dutch investors, banks, and pension funds to consult with us and our partners on how to invest responsibly in the palm oil chain, particularly with respect for labour rights. This, as well as other things, is done within the ICSR covenant for Pension Funds.
Exercising pressure on Dutch buyers and international traders. We encourage Dutch buyers and international traders to consult us and our partners on how to act responsibly in the palm oil chain, with respect for labour rights. We address buyers such as Unilever, who claim to pursue corporate social responsibility, about their actions, but also regarding the actions of others in the chain. This has already led to compensation for victims of pesticide poisoning or injuries.
Addressing governments. Together with our partners, we hold governments accountable with regard to respecting ILO core labour standards, and push for ratification of the ILO Convention against Violence and Harassment in the Workplace. We lobby the Dutch government and the EU for international corporate social responsibility to be laid down in legislation and regulations.
Where do we operate?
Indonesia and Colombia. We have downsized activities in sub-Saharan Africa.