21 January 2021
Recently, the Associated Press has published a series of articles highlighting the prevalence of human rights abuses that plague palm oil production in consumer goods supply chains around the world. These abuses include various forms of forced labour, violence against women and child labour. This series joins an increasing number of reports and articles shedding greater public light on the realities of human rights violations in the sector, and we commend the journalists and other investigators who help increase the visibility of these injustices, raise awareness and encourage the urgent action needed to address them. At the CGF, the themes of these reports are not new to us or our members; we have been reporting on and working to address these important concerns within palm oil production since 2018.
Understanding that real transformation in the palm oil sector needs to take place to benefit the wellbeing of both people and communities, as well as the natural environment, leading CGF members have joined our new Coalitions of Action at the CGF where working with palm oil stakeholders to address the human rights issue of forced labour is a top priority. Our Coalitions are designed to drive accelerated, targeted impacts, and their members recognise their role as leading brands to be able to drive real change on this issue.
I would like to share concrete details on behalf of our Coalitions about how, together, these Coalitions are playing their part to deliver urgent and effective change to palm oil supply chains worldwide. Fundamental to their actions is a common ambition to ensure the rights of workers, particularly those outlined in the CGF’s Priority Industry Principles, are respected. To do so, we believe that the strategies and implementation Roadmaps our members have developed in their respective Coalitions, through cross-Coalition collaboration, and with support from key stakeholders, will be able to effectively leverage members’ positions as global consumer goods brands to have a meaningful impact in ensuring all workers are treated decently.
To advance the human rights agenda in the palm oil sector, there is a need for a systemic approach which allows public-private partnership among stakeholders — governments, businesses and their suppliers, and civil society — to identify and work to prevent and address their potential human rights impacts. The Human Rights Coalition — Working to End Forced Labour has committed to deploying a human rights due diligence (HRDD) approach, specifically targeting forced labour risks and impacts in palm oil supply chains. We believe that making robust HRDD systems the norm in the palm oil sector can drive improved conditions for workers and sustained benefits over time. Coalition members are deploying a tailored approach to HRDD in palm oil across the value chain, with a focus on forced labour risks, to show what is possible and scale what works across the palm oil industry and beyond. These actions will all be concretely outlined in the Coalition’s Palm Oil Roadmap, which is planned to be published in early 2021.
Additionally, though the majority of labourers working in the palm oil sector are male, we also know that women are disproportionately impacted by forced labour. Understanding the issue of gender is essential to achieving any sustainability goal. As part of our approach, we are working to embed a gender lens to our framework and our key standards, to ensure that concerns around gender, particularly gender-based violence, in the sector are addressed in our strategy. This has been a critical discussion point with our stakeholders and we look forward to continuing to work with them on this priority.
Additionally, while the Forest Positive Coalition is focused on the environmental impacts of palm oil production, including deforestation and land conversion, it has been working closely with the Human Rights Coalition — Working to End Forced Labour to ensure its strategy helps encourage the implementation of the CGF’s Priority Industry Principles against forced labour.
Together, these two Coalitions comprehensively approach the issue of palm oil to address the forced labour issues and the environmental concerns which make it a high-risk commodity. Our two Coalitions are aligning their strategies to ensure each supports the other, for sourcing sustainable palm oil means the process must be good for people and the planet. These are not mutually exclusive tasks: these objectives must be achieved together.
We know transformation in this sector will not happen overnight, but we at The Consumer Goods Forum and the members of our Coalitions are determined to accelerate sustainable progress to ensure the rights of all workers in the sector are respected. Moreover, the critical relationships we have developed with integral stakeholders, such as the Palm Oil Collaboration Group, civil society actors and government actors, have been essential to incorporate insights from the lived experiences of those directly engaged in the sector. We call on our stakeholders and all actors from governments, civil society and within supply chains themselves to support the changes urgently needed in order to deliver sustainable impacts at scale to address and end these human rights violations.
This statement was written on behalf of the CGF Forest Positive Coalition of Action and the CGF Human Rights Coalition — Working to End Forced Labour by Didier Bergeret, Director, Sustainability, The Consumer Goods Forum