Human Rights & Palm Oil

Producing palm oil with respect for human rights is a crucial pillar to achieve a fully sustainable supply chain. SPOC shares the believe that a sustainable production of palm oil can only become a reality when both environmental and social issues are addressed.

Besides monitoring and verifying palm supply chains on environmental challenges, SPOC’s corporate participants also include a full scope of human rights topics in their supply chain due diligence work, for example the challenges of forced labor, children’s rights and women rights violations. We believe it is important to increase the awareness and knowledge of these issues. This should be immediately translated into collective and individual action.

What our participants do

Human rights abuses are one of the most challenging issues to manage in the agricultural commodities value chains. Nevertheless, different actions are already taking place focusing at addressing and preventing human rights abuses:

  • Supporting international frameworks for the protection of human rights: such as UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, International Labour Organization (ILO), the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the principles of Free and Fair Labor in Palm Production.
  • The RSPO standard contains principles and criteria that aim to prevent, mitigate and address human rights abuses and social issues in the palm oil sector. There are for example clear requirements relating to labour standards and working conditions, including the right of workers to freedom of association. Special rules must be set to protect the rights of vulnerable groups such as migrants, women and children. In order to oversee, review and improve these policies, the RSPO has a Human Rights Working Group. The UN Guidelines on Business and Human rights are at the core of the work of this group.
  • SPOC participants are active in sector-wide initiatives tackling these issues are also present in the palm oil value chain. An example of this is the Decent Rural Living Initiative. This project which counts on the collaboration of players such as Cargill, Sime Darby and Wilmar, aims to address systemic labour rights challenges within the sector with the support of Forum for the Future. This collaboration has led to the identification of issues affecting workers and their families and the best possible areas for action. The actions that resulted from this project are (1) developing a rights awareness platform, (2) Increasing telecommunications connectivity in rural locations, (3) Spearheading a social dialogue with unions and workers (4) Improving family well-being on concession lands.
  • Next to the international frameworks for human rights and sector-wide activities, companies can develop their own policies aimed at enhancing the protection of human rights within their supply chains. These policies cover but are not limited to the protection of child rights and ensuring ethical recruitment. This is for example the case for the NDPE commitments implemented by the industry. The ‘E’, which stands for exploitation, highlights the rights of smallholders, workers among others. These policies matter because they address possible human rights impacts. An example of this is the work of Bunge in Malaysia to improve the protection of rights of migrant workers by their suppliers. Another example are the numerous initiatives working to strengthen the rights of smallholders in the palm oil sector, which currently account for approximately 40% of the production of this crop.

Our position

We acknowledge the human rights related challenges present in agricultural supply chains. We support the increasing awareness and understanding of the challenges in the palm oil supply chain specifically. We aim to implement actions and policies, which ensure the protection of human rights. In particular, we support:

  • Regulatory due diligence and non-regulatory measures at EU-level to accelerate the transformation of the supply chain.
  • The implementation of OECD guidelines, which requires to identify, monitor, mitigate and prevent social and environmental risks in the supply chains.
  • Dialogue with suppliers to address risks and implement the requirements. We believe that active engagement in the supply chain is key to make concrete steps opposed to risk-avoid behavior.
  • Increasing the understanding of the best areas for action to address human rights abuses.
  • Dialogue and cooperation between producing and consuming countries to address such issues.