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Promoting decent work on palm oil plantations in Indonesia

By: and Posted: February 9, 2018 297 views

Promoting ethical work conditions in our supply chain is part of Golden Agri-Resources’ (GAR) commitment towards responsible employment. To enhance labour compliance and working conditions, we are collaborating with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to improve:

  1. employment status
  2. social dialogue
  3. occupational safety and health (OSH)
  4. prevention of child labour
  5. role of labour inspectors

Our supply chain team organised a focus group discussion with ILO and suppliers to set expectations as to what ‘decent work on a palm oil plantation’ entailed. The objective of the session was to identify key employment issues in plantations, root causes for difficulties faced, and then map solutions for intervention by various stakeholders.

Photo credit: Resta Ekapradistya

Challenging issues, potential solutions

Most suppliers have policies to require workers to put on personal protective equipment (PPE) before entering the workplace. However, because of the heat in our equatorial climate, workers often feel uncomfortable and slowed down wearing their PPE while harvesting fruits under the hot sun. One potential idea: How can agribusinesses like ours work with agrochemical producers to design PPE that is suitable for our climate using some form of cooling technology to combat the heat?

On the topic of health care coverage, Badan Penyelengara Jaminan Social (BPJS) is a mandatory, national health care insurance that all employers must have for their employees. This insurance allows sick or injured employees to visit specific clinics covered under the insurance plan, for free. However, such clinics are often not accessible for suppliers situated in rural areas. As a result, suppliers often have to pay for BPJS as well as the additional cost of medical care at clinics that are accessible to their employees but not covered by BPJS. This additional cost can be expensive. This issue could not be solved between supplier and producers alone, but would require an ILO-driven multi-stakeholder conversation.

One of the items most scrutinised by industry stakeholders today is minimum wage. Employers pay living wages stipulated by the local government, already factoring in the collective bargaining agreement with the labour union. However, these can differ from province to province as there is no fixed standard among the industry, and with some suppliers who operate across a few provinces, the issue can get confusing. Therefore, the participating suppliers saw a need for ILO to do further research and social dialogues with GAPKI, APINDO and local governments to explore a clearer solution.

Changing mindsets is a key component to curbing child labour. In most agriculturally focused communities, there is not enough awareness of how education helps a child’s development. Putting their children in school is often not a priority when farmers depend on their family members to be part of the family business. In order to change this mentality, some suppliers improve access to education by providing school buses, daycare centres, kindergartens and schools. Similarly, GAR supports 217 schools ranging from kindergarten to senior high, employing 1,600 teachers and educating more than 28,200 students. These are part of our efforts to encourage education for children, and these values are shared with our suppliers. Participating suppliers highlighted the need for everyone to play their part in order to make this work. There is still a lot more work to be done with the dealers, smallholders and local governments to identify areas of risk exposure to child labour and their access to education.

Photo credit: Resta Ekapradistya

One of the suppliers ended the session sharing the quote “Memanusiakan manusia”, which loosely translated means: Humanising humans in our workplace. Suppliers want to be responsible employers and treat their employees with fairness and dignity. Moreover, many of them are facing difficulties in hiring and retaining talent in rural areas, so they understand the urgency in providing decent working conditions to attract talent more swiftly. Many suppliers are confused on the differing standards and requirements to comply with and need support.

This is where GAR and ILO see an opportunity to trigger change. Transformation in rural employment will require time, and such focus group discussions are just the initial steps.

Yunirwan Gah, National Project Coordinator for ILO, believes the discussion was a positive start to tackling these labour issues, “This is a first step in order to get a better understanding of the concrete problems faced by the palm oil employers in the field on OSH and labour issues. The discussion was interactive and we are encouraged by the enthusiasm from participants in sharing their thoughts on ways to improve the working conditions in palm oil. Most importantly, we reaffirmed everyone’s commitment to a sustainable palm oil industry.”

At the end of the session, a joint work plan was agreed where GAR and ILO will support the suppliers in training and implementing changes in their workplaces.

If you are a supplier to GAR and would like help with your own sustainability journey, learn more here. If you are a palm oil supplier and would be interested in learning more about the GAR/ILO programme, contact us at supplier.support@sinarmas-agri.com.

Melissa Yeoh is part of the Sustainability Relations team in GAR, specialising in international stakeholders engagement. She has over 11 years of experience in the palm oil industry, working on sustainability matters in both upstream and downstream roles such as trading, compliance, and mergers & acquisitions. Melissa is a reader with the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Sustainable Leadership and has an MBA for International Business with the University of East London. She is professionally accredited with APINDO Indonesia’s Industrial Relations Certificate Programme.

Irpan Kadir is the supply chain compliance lead at GAR. He is responsible for developing and implementing systems to appraise suppliers’ performance based on GAR’s Social and Environmental Policy.  He has previously worked as an auditor with Sustainable Forest Management, RSPO and ISPO, and has experience as a consultant on corporate social responsibility, community development, sustainability reporting topics. He graduated from the Bogor Agricultural Institute with a degree in Social and Economic Agriculture.