Renowned food and cosmetics firms could have used palm oil produced by workers suffering from various abuses – from threats to rape – while global lenders finance the exploiting companies, AP reported, citing its investigation.
According to the report, based on accounts of over 130 current and former workers from two dozen palm oil companies in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as rights activists’ claims and journalists’ first-hand experiences, millions of people may be exploited at the palm oil plantations. The long list of alleged mistreatment includes threats and being held against one’s will, while the most severe abuses include child labor, slavery and allegations of rape.
While palm oil is widely used in a long list of daily products, it is sometimes hard to trace as it can be found under various names on labels. However, the most recent data from producers, traders and buyers of palm oil, cited in the investigation, indicate that the tainted product made its way to the supply chains of such industry giants as Unilever, L’Oreal, Nestle and Procter & Gamble. It could be used by the producers of Oreo cookies, Lysol cleaners and Hershey’s chocolate treats, the report claims.
“We gave our sweat and blood for palm oil,” said Zin Ko Ko Htwe, who was enslaved at one of the plantations for several years, but eventually managed to escape. He added that when European and US consumers see palm oil on a label, they should understand that “it’s the same as consuming our sweat and blood.”
Some big-name banks and financial institutions across Asia and beyond were mentioned in the report as financiers of the palm oil industry, which mainly relies on supplies from Malaysia and Indonesia. Out of $12 billion worth of investment inflows over in the last five years, around $3.5 billion reportedly came from the US’ BNY Mellon, Charles Schwab, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup, along with Europe’s HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Prudential. Some of the massive inflows could have come not directly, but through third parties like Malaysia-based Maybank.
When asked to comment on the report, some lenders noted that their investments were small or simply declined to answer, while others responded by pointing out their policies vowing to support sustainability practices in the palm oil industry. Meanwhile, some brands mentioned in the report said that they were aware of abuses in the industry, claiming that they are trying to work with ethically sourced palm oil.
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