* Children as young as 8 work in "hazardous" conditions
* Wilmar acknowledges "labour issues" in Indonesia palm oil
* Nestle: Such labour practices have no place in its supply
* P&G: Working with Wilmar to remedy any potential
* Firms can't stop parents from getting kids to help -palm
(Adds comment from manpower ministry)
By Eveline Danubrata and Bernadette Christina Munthe
JAKARTA, Nov 30 Global consumer companies,
including Unilever, Nestle, Kellogg and Procter & Gamble, have
sourced palm oil from Indonesian plantations where labour abuses
were uncovered, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Children as young as eight worked in "hazardous" conditions
at palm plantations run by Singapore-based Wilmar International
Ltd and its suppliers on the Indonesian islands of
Kalimantan and Sumatra, Amnesty said in a report.
Amnesty, which said it interviewed 120 workers, alleges that
many of them worked long hours for low pay and without adequate
safety equipment. The palm oil from these plantations could be
traced to nine multinational companies, it said.
"Despite promising customers that there will be no
exploitation in their palm oil supply chains, big brands
continue to profit from appalling abuses," said Meghna Abraham,
senior investigator at Amnesty.
The NGO said it chose Wilmar as the focus of its
investigation as the company is the world's largest processor
and merchandiser of palm and lauric oils, controlling more than
43 percent of the global palm oil trade.
Other companies operating palm plantations in Indonesia
include Golden Agri-Resources Ltd, Indofood Agri
Resources Ltd and PT Astra Agro Lestari Tbk.
Even though Indonesia has strong labour laws under which
most of the abuses can amount to criminal offences, these laws
are poorly enforced by the government, Amnesty said.
Wilmar said it welcomed the NGO's report, which helps to
highlight labour issues within the broader palm oil industry,
but added that finding a solution requires the collaboration of
governments, companies and civil society organizations. (For
Wilmar's full statement, click bit.ly/2fx0q1t)
"We acknowledge that there are ongoing labour issues in the
palm oil industry, and these issues could affect any palm
company operating in Indonesia," it said.
"The focus on Wilmar ... is often used to draw attention to
problems in the wider palm oil industry."
Wilmar supplies around 10 percent of the total palm oil used
in Nestle's products, the Swiss food giant said in an
email. Nestle said it is working with Wilmar to improve the
traceability of the commodity.
"Practices such as those identified in Amnesty
International's report have no place in our supply chain,"
Nestle said. The company said it would investigate allegations
related to its purchase of palm oil along with its suppliers.
Procter & Gamble also said in an email it is working
with Wilmar to "ensure they can remedy any potential human
rights infringements in their supply chain".
GOVERNMENT TRYING TO REDUCE CHILD LABOUR
Indonesia is the world's biggest producer of palm oil, used
in everything from snacks and soaps to cosmetics and biofuels.
The sector employs millions, and plantation operators say it is
difficult to have complete oversight of labour conditions.
No company would "consciously" hire underage labour as that
is against the law, but some plantation workers get their
children to help out, Sumarjono Saragih, an official at the
Indonesian Palm Oil Association, told Reuters by telephone.
"If children want to help their parents, companies cannot
forbid that," Saragih said.
The government has been trying to reduce child labour by
giving subsidies and other assistance to families, Maruli
Hasoloan, a senior official at the manpower ministry, told
Reuters in an email.
The ministry will also study working conditions at palm
plantations and improve labour protection in Indonesia, he said.
Agus Justianto, an official at Indonesia's environment
ministry, said that a company found guilty of labour violations
could get its permit revoked, but it is "not in the environment
U.S. snack and breakfast food company Kellogg Co said
it is committed to ensuring that its palm oil is obtained from
"known and certified sources that are environmentally
appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable".
If Kellogg finds or is made aware of any supply chain
violations, it would discuss corrective actions with its
suppliers, it said. "If the concerns are not adequately
addressed, we take action to remove them from our chain."
Unilever said while significant progress has been made to
tackle environmental issues associated with palm cultivation,
more needs to be done to address "these deeply concerning social
issues" and promised to work with its partners.
(Reporting by Eveline Danubrata and Bernadette Christina Munthe
in JAKARTA; Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano in
SINGAPORE; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Tom Hogue)