Global brands exploiting children as young as 8 for labour, says new Amnesty report

Products like Magnum ice-cream, Colgate toothpaste, and Pot Noodle contain palm oil produced through child labour

Global brands exploiting children as young as 8 for labour, says new Amnesty report

File photo: Khalil Hamra AP/Press Association Images

Several global food and household companies are exploiting children for cheap labour, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Children as young as eight are working in hazardous conditions 

The report, which investigated palm oil plantations in Indonesia run by the world’s biggest palm oil grower, Singapore-based agri-business Wilmar, found children as young as eight are working in hazardous conditions.

This was further traced back to nine global firms, including Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

Abuses

The investigation exposed a wide range of abuses including:

  • Women being forced to work long hours under the threat of having their pay cut, paid below minimum wage - earning as little as US$2.50 a day in extreme cases - and kept in insecure employment without pensions or health insurance,
  • Children as young as eight doing hazardous, hard physical work, sometimes dropping out of school to help their parents on the plantation,
  • Workers suffering severe injuries from paraquat, an acutely toxic chemical still used in the plantations despite being banned in the EU and by Wilmar itself.

Wilmar acknowledged that there are ongoing labour issues in its operations. Despite these abuses, three of the five palm growers that Amnesty International investigated in Indonesia are certified as producing “sustainable” palm oil under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a body set up in 2004 after environmental scandals.

“Despite promising customers that there will be no exploitation in their palm oil supply chains, big brands continue to profit from appalling abuses," Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland said. 

“Corporate giants like Colgate, Nestlé and Unilever assure consumers that their products use ‘sustainable palm oil’, but our findings reveal that the palm oil is anything but. There is nothing sustainable about palm oil that is produced using child labour and forced labour."

Amnesty International says it will campaign to ask the firms to tell customers whether the palm oil in popular products like Magnum ice-cream, Colgate toothpaste, Dove cosmetics, Knorr soup, KitKat,  Pantene shampoo, Ariel, and Pot Noodle comes from Wilmar’s Indonesian operation.

The NGO is calling on the Indonesian government to improve enforcement and to investigate the abuses set out in the report.