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Reporting human and labor rights in palm oil: Nestlé and Sime Darby Plantation launch worker helpline

Nestlé and the Sime Darby Plantation (SDP) are joining forces to pilot a project that will help eliminate human and labor rights abuses in their shared palm oil supply chain in Malaysia. The collaboration will see a new helpline developed which allows workers to report on working conditions, recruitment, safety and other labor issues. The helpline, the first of its kind in the palm oil sector, also utilizes a cutting-edge Laborlink mobile worker survey platform, which aims to assess human rights risk, deliver mitigation plans and track the effectiveness of actions taken.

Technology-enabled communication channels will allow workers to voice their concerns through channels that are most appropriate for them. These channels include SMS, Facebook Messenger or a toll-free number which is accessible seven days a week during peak call times, with after-hours messaging options.

Described as a “highly enhanced helpline,” it has been co-developed by the solution developer Elevate and Responsible Business Alliance. It builds on previous work in the manufacturing sector in Malaysia.

Workers’ issues will then be handled via clear protocols with consistent attention to follow-up and resolution of issues. The objective is to significantly reduce the risk of human and labor rights abuses by giving workers an opportunity to report issues directly to trained helpline officers.

This is the latest measure from Nestlé to improve its palm oil supply and follows a move to step up its deforestation commitment in September when it became the first food company to use a high-tech satellite-based service to monitor its palm oil supply chains. In a bid to distance itself from the controversy associated with deforestation and hit its 2020 no-deforestation targets, Nestlé implemented Starling, a global verification system using cutting-edge technology combining high-resolution radar and optical satellite imagery to provide constant unbiased monitoring of land cover changes and forest cover disturbances.

Earlier this year, the Swiss food giant was temporarily suspended from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) for breaching its code of conduct. At the time, the Swiss food giant claimed the organization’s approach “is not conducive to achieving the levels of industry transparency and transformation the sector so urgently needs.”

Nestlé stressed that although the company shares RSPO’s ambition for improving the social and environmental performance of the palm oil sector, “our approaches to this do differ.”

Nestlé was initially suspended for failing to submit a report going through exactly how it would ensure the use of certified sustainable palm oil, an annual requirement of being an RSPO member. A few weeks after the suspension Nestlé was reinstated after submitting its action plan to achieve 100 percent RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil by 2023.

Headquartered in Malaysia Sime Darby Plantation is involved in the manufacturing and distribution of oils and fats products, oleochemicals and palm oil-based biodiesel.

Nestlé action plan on labor rights in palm oil

This initiative marks another milestone in the implementation of the Nestlé action plan on labor rights in palm oil, according to Magdi Batato, Nestlé Executive Vice President, Head of Operations.

“We are very clear that human and labor rights abuses have no place in Nestlé’s supply chain. This is why we are committed to tackling this issue and helping drive positive change in the palm oil sector,” he says.

“We are working alongside other stakeholders including suppliers and we believe these ongoing efforts will help improve the lives of those affected by unacceptable practices,” he added.

The new initiative is built on Nestlé’s Corporate Business Principles and Responsible Sourcing Standard. The Standard also covers the responsibility of Nestlé’s Tier 1 suppliers to apply good labor standards in recruiting, compensating and caring about their workforce.

In the longer term, SDP and Nestlé aim to introduce and promote the helpline system to other players within the industry to address the challenges of managing issues related to their large labor force.

Nestlé is also fully engaged in cross-industry collaboration on human and labor rights issues in the palm oil supply chain. With other members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), it commissioned a new research report published by the Fair Labor Association (FLA).

The report assesses the forced labor situation in the palm oil sector in Malaysia and Indonesia. One of the highlights of the report is the need for companies to ensure that workers have access to functioning grievance mechanisms. The CGF also released a high-level action plan based upon the FLA's recommendations laid out in the report.

The research report and the action plan provide an important opportunity for CGF members to increase transparency and disclosure. Among other activities, Nestlé will support engaging governments and certification bodies on the Priority Industry Principles and the development of industry guidance and tools to support their implementation.

Earlier this year, the Danish Institute of Human Rights and The Forest Trust published the industry’s first collaborative assessment report looking at identifying labor and human rights impacts in Nestlé’s direct and indirect palm oil supply chain in Indonesia. The assessment was conducted with support from Nestlé and one of its main suppliers Golden Agri-Resources (GAR). Following the assessment, Nestlé developed its labor rights action plan for palm oil.




 

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