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Enforcing fair labour practices in the palm oil industry


A decade ago, the palm oil industry faced challenges on deforestation. Today, labour has been brought into similar light for the industry as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) report widespread abuses of human rights in palm oil plantations. The fundamental question is: How ready is the agriculture sector to ensure fair labour practices within rural employment to secure a sustainable workforce?

How ready is GAR?

Through extensive consultation with labour unions and representatives from each region’s Ministry of Manpower in Indonesia, our GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP) reflects labour requirements in the palm oil industry. Our commitments to responsible employment include:

  • Practicing ethical recruitment and prohibition of charging recruitment fees
  • No child labour
  • All plantation workers’ children have access to education provided by GAR
  • No forced labour or bonded labour
  • Comply to paying employees minimum wages equal to or exceeding the legal minimum wage
  • Comply to legal requirements on working hours
  • All overtime is voluntary and compensated
  • Freedom of association and collective bargaining
  • Proper Occupational Health and Safety implementation within management units

We employ the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for our GSEP section on ‘Respecting Human Rights’, upholding the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights for all workers, contractors, indigenous people and local communities in all company operations. What this means is that we, as a company, have in place:

(a) A policy commitment to meet our responsibility to respect human rights;

(b) A human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how we have addressed our impacts on human rights;

(c) Processes to enable the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts we cause or to which we contribute.

Sustainable Workforce: Industry wide challenges & concerted effort

We want to change the notion that the agriculture sector faces the highest risks in the area of labour exploitation. To reduce our workers’ exposure to chemicals, we have stopped using the herbicide paraquat, and we ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided to all employees. With regard to food security,at some of our estates, we also provide staples such as rice as an additional benefit to our workers. As a further step, we also have an Alternative Livelihood Programme in place to teach our employees to farm other kinds of produce. This helps them to achieve greater food security, reduce household expenditures and increase income by selling surplus stocks.

There are definitely sector-wide challenges in the palm oil industry in relation to labour, and we are taking a collaborative multi-stakeholder approach to address these issues. One example is our work with Neste and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) to conduct an assessment of our labour management systems and practices. The goal is to highlight areas where our current management systems and tools can be strengthened or improved to ensure good implementation of GSEP, as well as fulfilment of international stakeholder expectations on labour-related issues in the palm oil industry.

One of our biggest challenges in dealing with labour issues is ensuring third party suppliers and independent smallholders are aligned to our practices. We are tackling this by using existing engagements with them on traceability to plantation implementation, and adding on the topic of human rights assessment.

Echoing the ability of the palm oil industry to deal with deforestation through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) assessments, I believe that we can tackle this issue of human resources and labour proactively and responsibly, in order to give confidence to our stakeholders.

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