• By The Financial District


An Associated Press (AP) investigation into the invisible workforce of millions of laborers toiling in the palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia found many suffering from exploitation — including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape.

The workers from some of Asia's poorest corners tend the heavy reddish-orange palm oil fruit that feeds supply chains for many iconic food and cosmetics companies like Unilever, L’Oreal, Nestle and Procter & Gamble, report Margie Mason and Robin McDowell for AP.

Together, the two countries produce about 85% of the world’s estimated $65 billion palm oil supply.

One Indonesian man trapped on a Malaysian plantation run by government-owned Felda, one of the world’s largest palm oil companies, told AP in a desperate phone call: “I am not a free man anymore. I desperately want to see my mom and dad. I want to go home!” AP interviewed more than 130 current and former workers from two dozen palm oil companies who came from eight countries and labored on plantations across Malaysia and Indonesia. Almost all had serious complaints about their treatment, with some saying they were cheated, threatened, held against their will or forced to work off unsurmountable debts.

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