90% of migrant workers on palm oil plantations in Sabah in Malaysia come from Indonesia. Most of them do not have valid papers and are defenceless in the face of the exploitation of plantation owners. Solidar Suisse helps create networks of activists on the ground and informs plantation workers of their rights.
Exploitation for cheap oil
Approximately one in six products in Swiss supermarkets contains palm oil. The large-scale cultivation of palm oil monocrops destroys large swathes of rainforest, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia. Yet it is not only nature that is exploited; on these huge plantations the workers and their families suffer due to issues ranging from precarious working conditions to forced labour.
In total, 9% of the global production of palm oil is produced in the province of Sabah in Malaysia. The palm oil industry there draws on workers from Indonesia, because for some time now the Malaysian population has shunned the dangerous and degrading conditions associated with the industry. Yet the authorities in Sabah only issue a fraction of the requisite work permits; the rest of the migrants and their families are working illegally. They are criminalised and live in constant fear of being deported. This situation is exploited by plantation owners, who use the threat of deportation as a means of exerting control over workers.
Palm oil in Switzerland
About one in six products in Swiss supermarkets contains palm oil.
Migrant workers also have a right to dignified work, but often they are not aware of their rights. Therefore, Solidar Suisse helps to create networks among them and with the local union. In addition, we support access to education and healthcare for plantation workers and their families.
«Sometimes I’m so tired that I cry, but I just keep working.»
Various local organisations work for social and environmental improvements in the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia. Solidar Suisse helps create networks of local NGOs, activists and unions in order for them to jointly tackle the problems associated with the palm oil industry.
«In order for something to change, we must listen to those affected. They tell us about their problems and we discuss possible strategies together.»
Awareness of the challenges
It is important to shine light on the problems faced by migrant workers in Sabah. Our reports on the conditions on the plantations and the gross violations of human rights in deportation centres have had a strong impact up to the government level in Sabah. Also the Malaysian human rights commission SUHAKAM responded, and the Indonesian consulate in Sabah is now providing legal advice to Indonesian nationals.
Donate for the people on palm oil plantations
With your donation you will be supporting exploited migrant workers on plantations in Sabah.