A new report by the Associated Press details how child laborers toiling in unimaginable conditions on palm oil plantations have enriched the Girl Scouts.
“I thought Girl Scouts was supposed to be about making the world a better place.” @AP investigation ties exploitation of children in palm oil industry to the supply chains of America’s beloved Girl Scout cookies and other top food brands. https://t.co/EFtRhIkH7Q
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 29, 2020
Allegations of child labor have long plagued the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia. The neighboring countries account for 85% of the world’s palm oil. Other reported human rights abuses include exposure to dangerous pesticides, rape, and modern-day slavery, as a recent exposé in the Chicago Tribune described:
SUMATRA, INDONESIA — With his hand clamped tightly over her mouth, she could not scream, the 16-year-old girl recalls – and no one was around to hear her anyway. She describes how her boss raped her amid the tall trees on an Indonesian palm oil plantation that feeds into some of the world’s best-known cosmetic brands. He then put an ax to her throat and warned her: Do not tell.
While the $65 billion industry claims to have taken proactive steps to curb such abuses, the U.S. government recently banned palm oil imports from a prominent Malaysian producer.
It’s a horrific scandal the Girl Scouts should have seen coming. Instead, children on the other side of the world, but otherwise very much like those here, find themselves working under conditions no living American has endured.
At another plantation, a woman named Ola complains of fevers, coughing and nose bleeds after years of spraying dangerous pesticides with no protective gear. Making just $2 a day, with no health benefits, she can’t afford to see a doctor.
Hundreds of miles away, Ita, a young wife, mourns the two babies she lost in the third trimester. She regularly lugged loads several times her weight throughout both pregnancies, fearing she would be fired if she did not.
Entire families working under the unforgivable canopy of palm oil trees sometimes make less than $5 per day — the cost of most boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
The AP corroborated the allegations made by palm oil workers by interviewing hundreds of eyewitnesses, government officials, and activists who’ve devoted their lives to helping the victims of human trafficking.
Besides the Girl Scouts, a bevy of Western cosmetic and food companies, including Kellogg’s, Nestlé, and Unilever, use palm oil harvested under highly suspect ethical and environmental conditions.
For the time being, the ever-growing palm oil plantations continue their operations unimpeded.