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Palm oil has long been the subject of criticism from various quarters. Amidst of criticism, the global demand for palm oil is increasing, and palm oil plantations are also increasing in many places, in particular in Indonesia, the largest palm oil producer in the world.

In 2015 Indonesia exported a total of 28,276,871 tons of both crude palm oil (CPO) and kernel palm oil (KPO), with a value of more than US$15,413 million. This growing economy is in parallel with the expansion of palm oil plantation areas, which increased from 5,453,817 ha (2005) to 11,260,277 ha (2015). With targeted palm oil expansion started was 28,996,412 ha, the expansion still continues.

The demand for palm oil keeps rising, and there is little attention to the working conditions of palm oil plantation workers. Based on recent investigations, many similarities in working conditions can be found in almost all palm oil plantations. There are frequent practices in terms of irregular employment that have no job security, heavy workloads, unachievable daily targets, discrimination against workers, child labour, inadequate social security and other human rights violations. It can be said that the abusive working conditions is one of the key features of the palm oil supply chain.

Asia Monitor Resource Centre and Sawit Watch conducted a joint-research project to investigate working conditions on palm oil plantations owned by Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), the palm oil division of Sinar Mas. This research was corroborated by mapping the buyers and financier of GAR to see factors that support the existing working conditions.

Sinar Mas, through its subsidiary, was a signatory to UN Global Impact, No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE), and also one of the members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). These international standards consist of provisions to respect labour, and a commitment to human rights. In addition to those international standards, Sinar Mas also established its own policy concerning employment practices.

This research combined desk research and field research methods. Desk research was applied to trace GAR buyers and financiers, to obtain a framework of the palm oil supply chain, and to have a better understanding of the working conditions of palm oil plantation workers.vi

The investigation of working conditions was conducted by field research over a period of three months, from September to November 2017, in three estates under two subsidiary companies in Central Kalimantan province, Indonesia. The region was selected as the research sample, based on the assessment that the biggest palm oil plantation owned by Sinar Mas is located on Kalimantan Island. For the purposes of this research, the selected estates are managed by Tapian Nadenggan Inc. and Mitra Karya Agroindo Inc. in the Seruyan District of the Central Kalimantan province.

The data was collected by interviewing workers directly and gathering necessary evidence, including work agreements, and visually examining documentation. Researchers interviewed 49 plantation workers who were engaged directly in the production of palm oil in plantation fields, including harvester, sprayer, picker, fertilizer, nursery worker, etc. In addition, researchers also interviewed 3 ex-workers and two relevant informants from NGO focus on palm oil issue.

AMRC and Sawit Watch was found serious human rights and labour rights abuses on the three plantations own by Sinar Mas. These included unfair employment system, occupational safety and health problems, and low level of wage, bad living conditions, gender discrimination and exclusion of workers from the audit.

Download the full publication:
– (Indonesian version) Keuntungan Di Atas Manusia: Kondisi Kerja Di Bawah Rantai Pasokan Perkebunan Sawit Milik Sinar Mas –> Keuntungan Di Atas Manusia
– (English version) Profit over People: Working Conditions in Sinar Mas Palm Oil Supply Chain  –> Profit Over People

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