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Human rights issues in palm oil

palm oil

How are you addressing human rights issues in the palm oil sector?

Human and labor rights abuses have no place in our supply chain and we are working hard to address them.

For a number of years, we have been working with partners, including the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Earthworm Foundation, and Verité to improve transparency, traceability and supplier practices in the palm oil industry. Our approach is to work together with our suppliers to identify and address specific labor or human rights issues. If our suppliers refuse to make improvements, we will end our relationship with them.

In 2017, we carried out the industry’s first human rights impact assessment in our upstream supply chain, focusing specifically on the labor rights of workers. Based on the findings, we developed the Nestlé Global Action Plan on Labor Rights in Palm Oil Supply Chains (pdf, 391Kb), with the objective of improving labor conditions in our supply chain.

We are working with our partners to specifically raise awareness of all stakeholders, including palm oil mills, plantations as well as local and regional government, with a focus on addressing labor rights abuses, health and safety in mills and on plantations, and child labor. This work is helping us to identify existing challenges and develop collaborative solutions.

What concrete actions have you taken as part of your global action plan?

We continue to engage directly with our suppliers and sites in our supply chain conducting assessments, developing action plans, and monitoring sites previously assessed to review progress and strengthen their action plans.

We collaborated with NGO Verité to help us improve our labor rights due diligence systems. To this end, Verité carried out a full review of our supplier management systems for its effectiveness in identifying and addressing labor rights risks, and are now assessing its implementation on the ground with key suppliers. This will result in recommendations that we will use to further strengthen due diligence.

We supported Earthworm Foundation in developing a Human Rights Based Due Diligence Tool on Recruitment. This will allow for improved supplier transparency into recruitment processes, including costs borne by both workers and employer. The tool will be launched externally later this year.

We are supporting an Earthworm Foundation project to improve targets and payment systems for harvesters in Indonesia and to build close engagement with mills to address the issue of casual workers in Indonesia. A pilot was carried out with one company in North Sumatra, Indonesia, resulting in 51 workers promoted from casual to permanent, 411 harvest workers receiving salary slips and improvements in working and living conditions (distribution of Personal Protection Equipment, improved access to water, and improved housing). The objective is to scale up this work based on the key learnings gathered through this pilot and extend it to Malaysia.

We supported Earthworm Foundation in the development of a Directory of Social Services to help businesses improve the welfare of children living in or near plantations. It addresses four priority areas: Education, Community Engagement, Birth Registration and Other Child Protection-related services for children and youth living in rural areas in Sabah. A Child Risk Assessment Framework is also being finalized and will be made available before the end of 2019.

We are also addressing the practice of workers’ passport retention. We are working with our suppliers to raise awareness about the issues related to this practice, helping draw procedures to return the passports to the workers and installing lockers for workers across plantations. We are encouraged by the fact that several of our suppliers, including Wilmar and Fuji Oil, are now returning the passports to their workers.

As we believe that grievance mechanisms are critical to address labor rights risks, we also launched a worker helpline within Sime Darby Plantations in Malaysia. The helpline was developed together with ELEVATE and the Responsible Business Alliance. We aim to promote the helpline system among other players in the industry.

How do you work with others in the palm oil sector to drive change?

Given the complexity of the palm oil industry and the estimated four million people that it employs in South East Asia, progress in addressing labor and human rights issues relies on cross-industry efforts. We therefore participate in a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives to help transform the palm oil sector.We commissioned and contributed with other members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), to a research report by the FLA and an action plan on forced labor in the palm oil sector. In parallel, we are supporting engagement with suppliers, governments and certification bodies on the Forced Labor Priority Industry Principles (pdf, 11Mb) and the development of industry guidance and tools to support their implementation.

We are part of the Responsible Labor Initiative, a multi-industry, multi-stakeholder effort focused on ensuring that the rights of workers vulnerable to forced labor in global supply chains are consistently respected and promoted, and of the International Human Rights and Business (IHRB)’s Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment.

We also actively participated in the consultation process to strengthen the Principles & Criteria (P&C) of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We welcome the adoption of the revised P&C and believe this addresses key gaps that we have been calling out in the standard, including requirements on stronger Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), community protection, and labor rights. We are now continuing to work within RSPO to strengthen the assurance systems for implementing their P&C.

Are you ending your relationship with FGV Holdings following allegations that the company uses forced labor?

We are aware of the allegations against FGV. We do not source from FGV directly but palm oil from its affiliated companies enters our supply chain indirectly. We have regularly engaged with FGV to understand where they are making progress and to explain where more work needs to be done. We will continue to help ensure they take appropriate actions to eliminate labor rights abuses in our supply chains.

What is your response to Amnesty International’s report on labor abuses in palm oil?

Practices such as those identified in Amnesty International’s report have no place in our supply chain. We engaged extensively with Amnesty during the drafting of the report, including supplying detailed information on our relationship with palm oil supplier Wilmar and on our actions to address human rights and labor rights issues in the sector.

We continue to work closely with Wilmar and our partner Earthworm Foundation to address the gaps with our Responsible Sourcing Standard identified in Wilmar’s supply chains. We are working with them to improve the traceability to plantations and put in place targeted action plans to address labor risks.

What is your response to the Solidar Suisse report on labor rights in palm oil supply chains?

Human rights abuses, including forced labor and child labor, are inacceptable.

We are deeply concerned by the allegations made by Solidar Suisse. We are in contact with them and wish to establish the facts on this matter. If the allegations are true, we will take decisive action. It is disappointing to see that the explanations we have provided pertaining to Nestlé’s substantive on-the-ground efforts have not been reflected in the report.


Responses to Amnesty International letters


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