Agriculture, Food & Nutrition, Prosperity

Enforcing fair labour practices in the palm oil industry

Melissa Yeoh | Oct 12, 2017

This article was edited and originally published by GAR.

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, GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP) reflects labour requirements in the palm oil industry. Commitments to responsible employment include:

  • Prohibition of charging recruitment fees and ethical recruitment
  • 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

GAR employs the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for the 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 GAR has put in place:

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

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

(c) Processes to enable the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts caused or to which GAR contributed.

Sustainable Workforce: Industry wide challenges & concerted effort

The company wants to change the notion that the agriculture sector faces the highest risks in the area of labour exploitation. To reduce workers’ exposure to chemicals, they have stopped using the herbicide paraquat, and ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided to all employees. With regard to food security, at some of GAR estates, staples such as rice as an additional benefit are also provided to workers. As a further step, an Alternative Livelihood Programme is in place to teach employees to farm other kinds of products. This helps them 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 GAR is taking a collaborative multi-stakeholder approach to address these issues. One example is their work with Neste and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) to conduct an assessment of labour management systems and practices. The goal is to highlight areas where 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 the biggest challenges in dealing with labour issues is ensuring third party suppliers and independent smallholders are aligned to our practices. GAR is 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 GAR can tackle this issue of human resources and labour proactively and responsibly, in order to give confidence to their stakeholders.

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