Unilever, RB and P&G accused of using palm oil sourced by child labour

By Rachel Lawler 30-Nov-2016

Amnesty International claims that unethically sourced palm oil is used by major brands

A report released by Amnesty International has accused major companies, including Unilever, P&G, Colgate-Palmolive and Reckitt Benckiser, of using unethically sourced palm oil in their products.

Child labour

The human rights charity says that nine multi-national businesses are using palm sourced from Wilmar in Indonesia.

The company is said to be the world’s largest supplier of palm oil and is accused of using child labour to source the ingredient. Amnesty says that children aged between eight and 14 have been employed at the plant, carrying sacks of palm fruit weighing up to 25kg.

Amnesty also says that children and adults at some plantations work without proper safety equipment where toxic pesticides are used.

Meghna Abraham, Senior Investigator at Amnesty International, said: “Corporate giants like Colgate, Nestlé and Unilever assure consumers that their products use ‘sustainable palm oil’ but our findings reveal that it’s anything but.”

Peter Frankental, Amnesty's business and human rights programme director, added: “You can be sure that if one of these companies' products were contaminated and had to be taken off the shelves of supermarkets, they would ensure that they could trace the source to specific plantations.

“The brutal truth is that human rights abuse in the supply chain is not viewed as a quality control issue, but it should be. Products containing human rights abuses should be viewed as defective.”

Consumer concerns

Amnesty International is asking the companies implicated to tell consumers which of their products contain palm oil from the affected plantations.

P&G, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive admitted to purchasing palm oil from Wilmar in Indonesia but only Reckitt Benckiser and Kellogg’s provided information about which of their products this was used in.

Reckitt Benckiser says it uses palm oil from Wilmar to make bar soaps which are sold across the world.

Colgate-Palmolive told Cosmetics Business that it was "concerned" about Amnesty's allegations. It said that it was holding Wilmar "accountable for addressing any issues". It said: "We work with suppliers to remediate unacceptable practices and, as we have done in the past, will terminate any supplier that fails to address labor and human rights concerns."

RSPO under fire

The cosmetic companies involved are all members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which was set up in 2004 after repeated environmental scandals in the industry. However, this report makes clear that membership of the roundtable does not guarantee against human rights abuses.

The RSPO has issued a statement in response to Amnesty’s report acknowledging that there are “serious problems” regarding human and workers rights in the palm oil sector. It also said that it is working with Wilmar to follow up on the reports findings.

The RSPO said that it “welcomes a constructive dialogue with all interested parties” to help improve how it checks on compliance.

Brands potentially affected include:

Colgate
Head & Shoulders
Olay
Herbal Essences
Pantene
SK-II
Axe/Lynx
Dove
Lux
Sunsilk
Ponds
Vaseline
Clearasil