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PalmChildLaborBloomberg Businessweek http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-07-18/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-rife-with-human-rights-abuses#p1recently published a shocking exposé documenting cases of child labor, exposure to toxic pesticides, and forced labor trafficking in Indonesia’s palm oil industry.

Long popular as cheap cooking oil in Asia, palm oil is now the world’s most popular edible vegetable oil and is present in nearly half the products on our supermarket shelves, from soap to cosmetics, chocolate to breakfast cereals, and even french fries from McDonalds. Global demand for palm oil has skyrocketed over the last decade and is estimated to double by 2030 and triple by 2050.

Already infamous for its role in driving deforestation across Indonesia, far less attention has been paid to the human cost of palm oil expansion for millions of low-wage plantation workers and their families.

The Businessweek article centers around the harrowing story of “Adam,” a 19 year old Indonesian who was the victim of labor trafficking on a plantation owned by KLK, a large Malaysian palm producer that supplies palm oil to Cargill and other major U.S. corporations.

Adam and his fellow workers on the KLK plantation were lured from their home villages (often thousands of miles away) to a remote part of East Kalimantan with promises of good, steady jobs. What they found instead was that they wouldn’t be paid for two years, but only loaned up to $16 a month to buy necessities from the plantation store. Many workers were locked into “stifling, windowless barracks” at night, and their national identity cards and school certificates were confiscated to prevent them from escaping.

Just days after this news broke, our friends at Rainforest Action Network (RAN) released new evidence of child labor and abusive labor and recruitment practices on another KLK plantation.http://understory.ran.org/2013/07/29/exposed-child-labor-in-the-us-food-supply/

So what has Cargill had to say about the practices of its supplier KLK? According to Businessweek: “Cargill defended its supplier. ‘At this time, KLK is not in violation of any labor laws where they operate nor are we aware of any investigation of KLK’s labor practices,’ says Cargill spokeswoman Susan Eich in an e-mail.”

This makes me furious. Let’s make sure Cargill doesn’t get away with dodging its huge role in subjecting workers – including children – to horrifying working conditions.

In too many ways, Cargill is right at the center of palm oil’s controversial web. It’s one of largest importers of palm oil into the U.S. and a supplier to household names like Kellogg’s, General Mills, Nestlé, and many others. In short, it has the power and the responsibility to demand that its suppliers aren’t using slave labor.

Sign our petition http://action.laborrights.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=6960demanding that Cargill adopt comprehensive supply chain safeguards to prevent palm oil connected to slave and child labor and human rights abuses from tainting the world’s food supply.

Thanks for all you do,

Eric Gottwald
International Labor Rights Forum