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The Indonesian Palm Plantation Laborer

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.

Oil Palm Industry Workers

Indonesian law sets the maximum allowable work week hours at 40, and overtime is limited to 14 hours per week. Oil palm harvesters are paid on a “piece rate” rather than hourly rate. If harvesters don’t meet their targets, their base pay is deducted regardless of number of hours worked. Overtime pay and work hour restrictions are not adhered to when workers are paid on a piece rate. The International Labor Organization (of which Indonesia is a member) states these types of practices amount to forced labor. Indonesia does not allow anyone under the age of 18 to be employed in the “worst forms” of child labor which Indonesia defines as those that are harmful to health, safety or morals. Working on oil palm plantations is harmful to health and safety of children as the work requires heavy labor, repetitive motions and possible exposure to pesticide.

By Indonesia’s own definition, anyone under the age of 18 should not be working on a palm plantation. In its 2016 expose, Amnesty International interviewed children on Indonesian palm plantations that began working as young as 8 years old. Child labor is illegal but nonetheless continues with the encouragement and knowledge of plantation supervisory staff. The plantations that were investigated by Amnesty International test the blood of its workers to monitor chemical exposure. If irregularities are found, workers are not given a copy of the lab work and are simply moved to other jobs. One woman interviewed in the study stated she was splashed in the face with Gramoxone (aka Paraquat). She lost her vision in the exposed eye, experiences headaches, swelling and dizziness since the incident. Personal protective equipment would have prevented this exposure. Gramoxone is forbidden in Europe and can only be used by a certified applicator in the US. This material has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease. (Kamel, F., 2013)


Amnesty International. The Great Palm Oil Scandal: Labour Abuses Behind Big Brand Names-Executive Summary. 2016.

Gianmmarinaro, M., 2015, Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, A/HRC/29/38/Add.1, OHCHR, Geneva, Switzerland

Kamel, F. (16 Aug 2013). Paths from Pesticides to Parkinson’s. Science 341(6147), pp. 722-723. DOI: 10.1126/science.1243619

US State Department, TIP 2017 Report, Indonesia, pp. 208-211

US State Department, TIP 2017 Report, Malaysia, pp. 264-267

Varatiala, S., Ristimaki, S. The Law of the Jungle: Corporate Responsibility of Finnish Palm Oil Purchases. 2014.

Oil Palm Industry | The Forced Indonesian Palm Plantation Laborer