When talking about how the private sector impacts labor rights worldwide, both positively and negatively, the center of such a discussion must start with the global palm oil industry. The sector has grown rapidly over the past 10 to 15 years as food processing and personal care product companies increasingly coveted this ingredient, which can improve and standardize products’ consistency as well as lengthen their shelf lives. According to WWF, global palm oil production was approximately 24 million tons in 1999; by 2019, that amount more than doubled to approximately 50 million tons; in the next few years, watch for annual production to surpass 70 million tons.

Indeed, other industries also touch our everyday way of life, such as seafood, timber and paper, and cotton. But as WWF pointed out, almost half of all consumer goods on the planet include palm oil as an ingredient, which in turn is why this ingredient affects so many people across its entire supply chain -- from farm to factory and then, finally, at the retail check-out counter.

Furthermore, palm oil has become the focal point of the global debate over how to best manage the environment while securing the most basic human freedoms. Concern is now mainstream: In the popular Netflix series "Grace and Frankie," a scene over the palm oil controversy leads one character to tell the lead, played by Lily Tomlin, to get over her hypocritical stance on the industry: “I bet I could open up your purse right now and find three things that have palm oil in them.”

Yet those countless things made from palm oil are wreaking havoc in communities across the world, say many NGOs, as countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Guatemala and Colombia become the setting for what is often called “conflict palm oil.” These nations are amongst several emerging economies to witness forced labor along with an increase in land grabbing and unfair wages.

Read the full article on Triple Pundit, part of a series sponsored by the C&A Foundation on fashion's impact on society.

Image credit: Mighty/Flickr

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.