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2. The Problem

According to data from Indonesia's Statistics Agency (BPS) the total area of oil palm plantations in Indonesia is currently around 11.9 million hectares; this is about three times higher than in the year 2000. This figure is expected to increase to 13 million hectares by the year 2020 (1). Indonesia is one of the major palm oil producing countries. It contributes 30% of the global production. Major areas of palm oil plantation in Indonesia are North Sumatra, Riau, and Central Kalimantan.

Women most vulnerable

Big private enterprises (e.g. Cargill, Wilmar Group and Sinar Mas Group) are dominant and responsible for over half of total Indonesian palm oil production. Smallholder farmers account for around 40 percent of total production. They are highly vulnerable to global downswings in palm oil prices as they cannot avail of the cash reserves (or bank loans) that the big companies have at their disposal. Also trade union members, mostly plantation workers, live in a deplorable situation, without even having or owning land as a resource at their disposition (2). Among them, women workers are even more vulnerable, since most of them are casual laborers who have an income below minimum wage without social security and other benefits of permanent workers.

Conflicts of resources

Based on Daemeter and the Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA) working paper (2016) (3), Civic Engagement Alliance Indonesia (4) assumes that 14 million smallholders work in the palm oil sector. Based on planted area and the number of households involved, the 10 highest priority provinces for considering improvements to policies and programs related to smallholder farmers are: Aceh, Bengkulu, Jambi, Riau, West Sumatra, South Sumatra, North Sumatra, West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. These provinces all have large smallholder managed palm oil areas (more than 150,000 ha each) and significant numbers of smallholder farmer households (more than 20,000 households each). In these ten areas with relatively the highest local income, the palm oil production has introduced a lot of conflicts (5) of resources about land, water, food and monoculture between local communities, smallholder farmers, trade union members and non-palm oil grower communities, introducing poverty again. On top of this situation the space of trade unions in the palm oil sector to operate is under pressure.

Hard work

Palm oil fruits grow four to five metres above the ground, along thorny leaf fronds. Fruit bunches, made up of thousands of oval-shaped fruits, weigh between 15 and 25 kilograms. Palm oil cultivation includes sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings, harvesting, and transporting fruit bunches. Children primarily collect loose fruit, help to carry and load bunches of palm oil fruit, and weed the oil palm fields. Men and, sometimes, boys cut fruit bunches down from trees using a long, heavy pole with a knife on the end (punting pole) or by climbing them to harvest the fruit directly. The use of the punting pole puts a lot of strain on the musculoskeletal system. Girls and women are responsible for gathering and moving the fruit bunches. Child labor helps families meet daily fruit quotas of between one and two tons.

Child labor is prevalent

Recent research by Amnesty International and Unicef reconfirmed that child labor in this sector is still prevalent particular among smallholder estates that supply to larger companies. Based on the above situation and analysis, Civic Engagement Alliance Indonesia is targeting smallholders and workers in the palm oil sector (male/female between 30 - 50 years old) specifically in North Sumatra and East Kalimantan. Additional to that, for 24 years, PKPA is a local NGO based in North Sumatra and witnessing the hazardous situation of child labor. With ten companies, they facilitate the signed Code of Conduct to work for child labor eradication inside the factory and the farm. The Civic Engagement Alliance strategy on lobby and advocacy uses the UNGP and ‘Child Rights in Business Practices’ approaches.

(1) Based on Indonesian Oil Palm Statistics, 2015.
(2) Based on Indonesia Palm Oil Statistic, 2015.
(3) This report acknowledges the limitation to ensure exact numbers of small holders working in the palm oil sector.
(4) The Civic Engagement Alliance coalition in Indonesia consists of Indonesian partners PKPA, Penabulu, Hukatan and NGO council and Dutch Alliance members ICCO Cooperation, CNV International and KerkinActie.
(5)Komnasham reported the human rights violation is mostly done by companies (of palm oil, mining and gas industry) while human rights violations by state officials/ government and police department are related to the industries mentioned.

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