The Palm Scribe

Lack of Understanding of RSPO standard is Organization’s Biggest Labor Challenge


In its drive to promote sustainability in the palm oil sector, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) must deal with the labor issues in the industry but faces serious challenges arising from lack of understanding about the rights and obligations of labor.

“The biggest challenge felt by RSPO, is the understanding of workers’ rights and obligations within the RSPO standard,” Sarsongko Wachyutomo, RSPO Indonesian Grievance Manager, told The Palm Scribe.

Besides this lack of understanding, both from the labor force and corporations, another major challenge for the organization is the lack of evidence to support complaints related to labor violations provided by the complainants.

Labor is never a light issue in any sector, since it always involves many layers and stakeholders, as well as represent various, often interconnected interests. The palm oil labor sector in this world’s top palm oil-producing country was no exception.

Last week, the Coalition of Oil Palm Workers (KBS) called on the government to come out with a regulation specifically governing the rights and obligations of workers in the palm oil sector, saying that existing laws and regulations could not fully protect the labor force.

“A regulation that specifically arranges work relations in oil palm plantation should be seen as a serious effort by Indonesia to ascertain that the rights of workers are respected, protected and met,” the coalition said. KBS deemed that Indonesian labor regulations remained weak in terms of protecting workers, especially in oil palm plantations.

“Current Indonesian labor regulations cannot accommodate differences in labor conditions especially between labor in the manufacturing sector and those in oil palm plantation,” it argued.

KBS demanded that “The government issue policies to improve (the welfare) and protect oil palm plantation workers, including halting discriminatory practices against women workers.” KBS noted that women, who were the majority of some 18 million workers in Indonesia’s oil palm plantations, were the first victims of the exploitative work system in oil palm plantations.

Sarsongko also acknowledged that the problems highlighted by KBS were the main problems faced by the country’s palm oil industry, namely wage-related violations where companies pay workers below the government-set minimum wage, employees who are not registered with the BPJS health and employment programs,  unilateral termination of employment, unpaid overtime, as well as the absence of maternity leave for female workers.

“The above-mentioned types of violations are based on the complaint cases entered in the RSPO system and which are still in the process of verification and completion,” Sarsongko said.

The fact is, that such problems continued to occur despite the rigid standards set by the RSPO since its establishment in 2004.

The RSPO labor standard includes; no forms of forced or trafficked labor, no harassment or abuse in the workplace, protection of reproductive rights, to ensures that the working environment is safe and without undue risk to health, pay and conditions for staff and workers and for contract workers always meet at least legal or industry minimum standards and are sufficient to provide decent living wages (DLW), no form of discrimination, and children are not employed or exploited.

The organization also requires its member companies to publish statements recognizing the rights to association and to collectively bargain in the national language. It also requires companies to inform their workers about this right of association and collective bargains in languages that they understand, and also demonstrably implement those rights.

RSPO also encourages oil palm companies to provide their labor with medical care, including insurance that covers accidents.  Companies have to bear costs from work-related incidents in accordance with the national law or by the unit of certification where national law does not offer protection.

The organization that has so far, the best globally recognized sustainability standard for palm oil, has a grievance resolution mechanism set out in the Complaints & Appeal Procedures that was set in 2017.

Sarsongko said that complaints are handled through a series of processes, starting with the RSPO Secretariat determining whether incoming complaints do pertain to violation of RSPO provisions and can be further processed or be simply dropped or returned to the complainant for further elaboration and providing of the necessary evidence.

The secretariat will after that, have to carry out an “Initial Diagnosis” process and provide information to the complainants, acknowledging that their complaints have been received and will be further investigated.

“Every decision regarding the closure or continuation of a case comes under the authority of the Complaint Panel,” Sarsongko said, adding that a third-party mediation process, could only take place if agreed by both parties can only be chosen if both parties agreed to the option.

Should a complainant decide to take a case that is already being handled by the RSPO to court, the RSPO will defer the resolution of the process until a binding court verdict was reached since the organization does not have the authority to prohibit complainants to take legal actions.

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