We get asked this question all the time. The situation seems hopeless at times. Deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, threats of species extinction, disregard of indigenous land rights, exploitation of labor. The list of problems caused by oil palm cultivation goes on and on. How can one person possibly impact situations occurring halfway around the world and do we even have the right to do so?
In Malaysia, foreign workers supply more than 20 percent of the workforce. The US State Department notes there are approximately 2 million documented migrant workers in Malaysia and estimates even more undocumented workers exist. Malaysia is the top destination for Indonesian migrant workers. The Indonesian government estimates 1 million Indonesians who are working in Malaysia are either undocumented or have overstayed their visas. Other source countries are Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Burma and the Philippines. Low economic opportunities in their home countries, the geographic proximity of Malaysia, and Malaysia’s arrival into an upper middle-class country fuel both the demand and supply of the foreign labor market in Malaysia.
With decades of environmental devastation and human rights violations, palm oil has been under the scrutiny of environmentalists, NGOs, and consumers for quite a while. Certifying bodies like the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), and more recently the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), have tried to certify the sustainability of palm and palm kernel oils. Unfortunately, lax rules, weak enforcement and domination by commercial interests have served to weaken the effectiveness of these organizations.
In Indonesia, 10% of the population works outside the home municipality in different parts of Indonesia (Vartiala, S., et al, 2014). Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil with production reaching 35 million tons per year.