Where is the palm oil industry on human rights?

As global attention focuses on forests and the plight of orangutans, the untold part of the palm oil story is people. What is the industry doing to protect palm oil workers' rights and those of the people who defend their land as the industry expands?

In the neverending debate about the impact of palm oil on our planet, there is one part of the story that often gets overlooked—people.

While images of orangutans fighting off excavators and burning peatland forests have captured the imagination, particularly in Europe where palm oil for use as biodiesel fuel is to be banned, the people who work in and around plantations in Southeast Asia are invisible by comparison.

With this in mind, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the palm oil industry’s leading certification body, has drawn up a new framework that aims to get a fairer deal for palm oil workers. Better paid palm oil farmers are under less economic pressure to clear forest to feed their families, plantations are more productive, and there is less staff turnover.

The new framework also aims to protect vulnerable groups such as migrants, refugees, and women, and safeguard the rights of local and indigenous communities impacted by palm oil production. But what are the challenges faced in setting better human rights standards in the palm oil trade, and how can RSPO ensure their new rules are adhered to?

RSPO human rights podcast. Kamini Visvananthan, human rights and social standards manager for RSPO, and Daryll Delgado, research and stakeholder engagement lead, for workers rights non-profit Verite

Kamini Visvananthan, human rights and social standards manager for RSPO (left), and Daryll Delgado, research and stakeholder engagement lead, for workers rights non-profit Verite (right)

To discuss this, the Eco-Business podcast welcomed industry experts Kamini Visvananthan, human rights and social standards manager for RSPO, and Daryll Delgado, research and stakeholder engagement lead, for workers’ rights non-profit Verité, which helped to draw up RSPO’s principles and criteria for human rights.

Tune in as we talk about:

  • Why the human story has been ignored
  • What’s life like on a palm oil plantation?
  • What is meant by a decent living wage?
  • Weeding out human trafficking 
  • The plantation of the future

Did you find this article useful? Help us keep our journalism free to read.

We have a team of journalists dedicated to providing independent, well-researched stories from around the region on the topics that matter to you. Consider supporting our brand of purposeful journalism with a donation and keep Eco-Business free for all to read. Thank you.

Most popular

More from Palm oil conversations

Child labour on palm oil plantation
Should the priority be to stop all child labour on palm oil plantations? Or to address the root causes of child labour?
Smallholders in palm oil industry
Smallholders have taken much of the blame for this year's haze-causing forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. How can they be motivated to switch to more sustainable, fire-free production methods?
palm oil plantation with blue skies
A year after the leading sustainable palm oil certifying body forged an important strategic alliance in the world's most populous country, RSPO’s CEO Datuk Darrel Webber tells Eco-Business why he’s optimistic that China has the makings of a market leader in sustainable palm oil.
Palm oil smallholder farmer
Palm oil smallholders play an increasing role in deforestation and peat degradation. To make sustainable palm oil a reality, an industry is searching for ways to steer these farmers towards more responsible practices.
leaf background pattern

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability Join the Ecosystem →

Strategic Organisations

Reneum
Danfoss
Trucost
ESG Book
Olam
City Developments Ltd