Major household brands are selling everyday grocery staples containing palm oil produced using child labour, Amnesty International has claimed.
Amnesty said children as young as eight were working in hazardous conditions for Singapore-based company Wilmar, whose palm oil was traced to nine global firms including Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever.
A report by the human rights organisation contains details of children aged between eight and 14 working without safety equipment at Wilmar’s Indonesian plantations, where toxic pesticides are used. Children were carrying sacks of palm fruit that can weigh 25kg, according to the report.
Some had dropped out of school to work with parents for all or most of the day, while others worked in the afternoon after school, at weekends and during holidays, Amnesty claimed.
The organisation asked the companies named in its report to confirm whether the palm oil in a list of their consumer products came from Wilmar’s Indonesian operations.
Only two of the companies, Kellogg’s and Reckitt Benckiser, provided any detail about which of their products were affected, but both cited “traceability” in the supply chain as a factor explaining why they had not acted to investigate or identify abuses.
Colgate and Nestlé told Amnesty none of the products listed contained palm oil from Wilmar’s Indonesian operations, but did not say if others did. Unilever and Procter & Gamble did not correct the list, while the others on the list offered “vague or no responses”.
Amnesty is calling on firms to tell customers whether palm oil in popular products such as Magnum ice cream, Colgate toothpaste, Dove cosmetics, Knorr soup, Pantene shampoo, Aero and KitKat chocolate bars, Ariel and Pot Noodle comes from Wilmar’s Indonesian operation.
Amnesty International senior investigator Meghna Abraham said: “These findings will shock any consumer who thinks they are making ethical choices in the supermarket when they buy products that claim to use sustainable palm oil.
“Something is wrong when nine companies turning over a combined revenue of £260 billion in 2015 are unable to do anything about the atrocious treatment of palm oil workers earning a pittance.”