Fifty million tons of palm oil are produced each year, and that volume is growing exponentially. Demand for palm oil continues to rise across the globe, as an affordable cooking oil, an input to an estimated 50 percent of grocery products, and an emerging biofuel. But the production of palm oil has been linked to troubling social and environmental problems, including the presence of forced labor and human trafficking in its supply chain. Verité is combating these abuses, and promoting ethical labor practice in palm oil production, by helping companies and other stakeholders understand the problem, identify it in the supply chain, and build effective solutions.
Guatemala is among the world’s most prolific palm-oil-producing countries, but it also appears to be one of the cruelest. A new report (pdf) released by the international labor watchdog Verité details the labor and human rights problems in Guatemala’s fast-growing palm oil industry. And there are many, according to the report: Forced labor, child labor, health and safety risks, poor housing, environmental damage, and wage exploitation are just the highlights of the list of dangers facing impoverished palm oil workers and farmers in the country.
“What kind of oil should we buy?” Luo Xiaohua shouts to her cousin from the cooking oil aisle in Yonghui Supermarket in the heart of Chongqing, a rising Chinese megacity. Luo, 50, is the quintessential Chinese shopper. She earns $3,250 a year and has an elementary education. She’s fiercely opinionated about her purchases.