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Respecting labour rights in the palm oil sector

Millions of people work on palm oil plantations in Asia, Latin-America, and Africa. These people are an indispensable workforce for the sector, but their fundamental labour rights are often not respected. CNV Internationaal believes that their circumstances would be greatly improved, if all the parties in the palm oil chain joined forces. Our cooperative efforts would focus on building respect for worker rights through social dialogue and freedom of association.

We know it's difficult for investors and brands to get accurate insight regarding the situations. That’s where CNV Internationaal comes in.

Eva Smulders, responsible business (RBC) coordinator CNV Internationaal

Labour rights at risk

The most severe labour rights risks in the palm oil sector in Asia and Latin-America are: 

  • Occupational health and safety risks
  • Gender discrimination and gender based violence
  • No living wage
  • Lack of freedom of association
  • Absence of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA).
  • Child labour
  • Many people work without (long term) contracts

Female workers

Eva Smulders, RBC coordinator CNV Internationaal, points out the importance of improving the situation of female workers on plantations: 'Most of the women work on daily basis, without a proper contract. If they become pregnant or if the rain prohibits them to work, they don’t receive any income. We know it’s difficult for investors and brands to get a good insight. That’s where CNV Internationaal comes in.'

'With our knowledge and our network of local unions, we can help you set up a social dialogue. Together we can make an impact and realize a living wage and safe working conditions for all women and men working on the plantation.' 

We would like to invite the sector to start a joint process for solving the issues, following the roadmap we have developed, involving all stakeholders of the value chain.

Independent unions

Without trade unions workers’ rights are at risk. That is why it’s very important that workers are represented by independent unions, who will stand up for a living wage and decent working conditions. Because many companies are hesitant in allowing unionization on their palm oil plantations, only a minority of the workers are member of a union.


 Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) RSPO is a non-profit member organization and a certification scheme, uniting stakeholders in the palm oil industry.  RSPO aims to create stronger partnerships in the sector. These partnerships, in turn, will establish a smarter and more adaptive sustainable palm oil supply chain overall. 

Currently 19% of the palm oil produced throughout the world is RSPO certified. Hukatan, CNV Internationaal's partner in Indonesia, was the first union to join. CNV Internationaal became an RSPO member in 2020.

Landscape programmes

CNV Internationaal cooperates with two landscape programmes, with Proforest in the Siak Pelalawan Landscape on Sumatra and withKaleka in Central Kalimantan.

Proforest, Agricultural and forestry production delivers positive outcomes for people, nature and climate.


CNV International currently cooperates with two landscape programmes, with Proforest in the Siak Pelalawan Landscape on Sumatra and with Kaleka in Central Kalimantan. 

Including labour rights and Social Dialogue in landscape programmes allows more sustainability, environmentally as well as socially. 

Learn more > 

Palm oil facts and figures

  • 50% of the worldwide consumer goods contain palm oil.
  • Indonesia and Malaysia produce 85% of the palm oil.
  • Colombia is the biggest producer of palm oil outside Asia.
  • Most workers on palm oil plantations do not earn a living wage.
  • Many women working on plantations have no permanent contract.
  • Less than 5% of the palm oil plantation workers in Indonesia are organized.

Joining forces 

To increase impact CNV Internationaal also joins forces with:


Learn more, downloads

Video: How to improve labour conditions in palm oil 

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Contact us

Suzan Cornelissen, country coordinator Indonesia +31 6 28329041

Maurice van Beers, region coordinator Latin America +31 6 83594044