Singapore-based Wilmar International has announced a new partnership with labour rights watchdog Verité, which in 2013 released a white paper exposing widespread rights abuses in palm oil supply chains.
Verité collaborates with major brands throughout the world and will help Wilmar identify and resolve ongoing issues such as child labour, freedom of unions, fair pay and working conditions.
Perpetua George, general manager of group sustainability at Wilmar, said in a statement: “Our collaboration with Verité is to find real solutions and improvements for people in the oil palm community. It is important that solutions can be replicated in not just our own operations, but also elsewhere in the industry such as with our suppliers.
"A lot of the issues we see in the oil palm community are entrenched and multi-dimensional; solving these problems are beyond the capability and capacity of any one company. The old saying, ‘It takes a village’ certainly rings true, the entire oil palm community needs to work together to address these labour challenges holistically.”
The partnership has already started and will run for the next twelve months. It will include six phases of fact-finding, analysis and problem solving to implement long-term plans that should ensure fair labour practices throughout Wilmar’s supply chain.
However, ensuring a transparent supply chain has not been a total success in Wilmar’s recent history; several weeks ago the NGO Rainforest Action Network uncovered evidence that the firm had been buying palm oil harvested by plantation companies that had illegally deforested areas of the Leuser ecosystem, one of the world’s most endangered habitats.
George explained that Verité’s white paper opened a window for improving labour conditions.
“Resolving deforestation issues is more of a technical matter to do with geographical information and satellite imagery," she said. "The social component was taking a secondary place in companies' priority, mostly because it is much harder to qualify and quantify, and in Wilmar’s participation in the RSPO certification Principle & Criteria 2012/ 2013 review we realised there were certain labour issues that could not be resolved individually.
"The Verité paper provided some real impetus for improving human rights and conditions and now we have a clearer requirement for ensuring (for example) that forced labour is addressed clearly within RSPO certification. This new initiative with Verité is the result of a build-up of efforts over the past four years, we’ve identified the problems and now we need to stop wasting time and start acting to solve these issues.”