Allegation Of Female Labor Exploitation Harms Palm Oil

Press Release
Indonesian Palm Oil Association (IPOA)

Allegation of female labor exploitation harms palm oil

JAKARTA – Black campaign against the palm oil industry is resurging. After the issue of forest and land fires, a number of international green NGOs with the support of several Western media have discredited the palm oil industry with the exploitation issue of women workers. It is an accusation which is not based on objective facts from the field.

“The palm oil companies in Indonesia, especially members of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI), are unlikely to do such exploitation practice which breaches the prevailing laws and the sustainability principles adopted in the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO),” Sumarjono Saragih, the head of GAPKI’s Workforce Division Head, told the press in Jakarta on Thursday.

Sumarjono ensured that the Indonesian palm oil industry is committed to creating conducive working environment to ensure the safety and healthy condition of all workers in the industry. GAPKI has even established cooperation with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and a number of international NGOs to develop a system of decent work in the palm oil sector from upstream to downstream.

“The worker exploitation news, which went viral after being published by the news agency Associated Press (AP), is very biased, tendentious, and against the journalistic principle of covering both sides,” said Sumarjono.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the oil palm plantation companies under GAPKI have been implementing very strict health protocols, which limit the people access into and out of plantations. It is doubtful whether the AP reporter truly went to the field, as access into the oil palm plantations is strictly controlled as part of the implementation of the very strict health protocols by the oil palm plantation companies.

“If the AP reporter truly went into the oil palm plantations owned by member companies of GAPKI, they would certainly get more objective facts from the field,” Sumarjono said.

He asserted that all member companies of GAPKI comply with all prevailing laws on manpower. Even GAPKI has targeted that by the end of 2020, all member companies of GAPKI are already certified with ISPO. “If they manage to get ISPO certificates, that means they have no problem with manpower. They cannot get the ISPO certificates if they have problems related to the manpower issues,” he said.

Sumarjono believes that the viral news on the exploitation of female workers in oil palm plantations is part of the trade war in the global market of vegetable oils. When other vegetable oils besides the palm oil can no longer compete fairly with the palm oil, then the developed countries have to resort to launching negative campaigns to tarnish the reputation of palm oil. “They hope to be able to cut the supply chain on the buyer side and end-consumers of palm oil by spreading the negative issues,” he said.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the exports of the palm oil sector contributed foreign exchange at US$15 billion as of September 2020. The palm oil contribution had made Indonesia’s trade balance in surplus during the period. In terms of employment, there are around 2.6 million people who are directly employed in the palm oil industry, and around 3 million people are indirectly employed workers or smallholders. Indonesia has a total 16.3 million hectares of oil palm plantations, of which around 7 million hectares or 43 percent are owned by smallholders.

Sumarjono noted that through collaborations with multiple sides, including the government institutions and international organizations dealing with labor, GAPKI has been continually pursuing efforts of improving, promoting and implementing all aspects adopted within the concept of decent work. There are six agendas that have become the focus of attention of GAPKI and all of its partners: 1) job status, 2) social dialogue, 3) protection of children and female workers, 4) wages, 5) occupational health and safety (K3), and 6) encouraging supervision by government. (*)

Jakarta, 19 November 2020
The Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki)

For further information, please contact:

Ir. Mukti Sardjono, M.Sc
Direktur Eksekutif GAPKI
Ph. 021-57943871, Fax. 021-57943872

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