Palm oil producers in Indonesia are committing gross labor abuses, according to human rights group Amnesty International. The group accuses the world's biggest producer, Wilmar, of using child labor and forcing women to work with no pay.
Palm oil is found in a huge range of products from food to cosmetics.The crop's rapid growth has spawned huge plantations, especially in Southeast Asia. Amnesty International's Meghna Abraham says the burgeoning demand also is driving widespread labor abuses.
"We found children as young as eight working on these plantations helping their parents. We found forced labor where women workers are forced to work for two days but only paid for one day."
Amnesty interviewed an 8-year-old boy who said he helps his father pick the palm kernels after school. He told the researchers he does not get any money, and has to carry very heavy sacks full of palm kernels.
Another worker told Amnesty he has no choice but to get his wife and children to help him with the harvest.
The plantation is too wide, he says, so it is impossible to do it by himself without help. If I can't meet the target the company sets, he says, then he will get a warning letter from the head of the company.
Other workers complain of deteriorating health because of exposure to chemicals, including lung and skin problems.
All the plantations were either suppliers to, or subsidiaries of, the world's biggest palm oil exporter, Singapore-based Wilmar. Again, Amnesty's Meghna Abraham.
"Wilmar as the world's largest trader is supplying virtually every big company you can think of. So we traced the palm oil from the plantations that we investigated to nine big household name companies, which include companies like Unilever, Nestle, Procter and Gamble, Kelloggs, Colgate Palmolive."
Those companies all say they take rigorous steps to ensure the sustainability of their palm oil supplies and have pledged to investigate Amnesty's claims.
"But there's a big gap between the policies that they have on paper and what's happening on the ground in these plantations."
Wilmar has said it is deeply concerned about Amnesty's allegations and has pledged to take any necessary action to address abuses.