Palm fruit on the ground

Verité has written in this space previously regarding our in-depth research on the risk of human and labor rights abuses in the production of palm oil in Guatemala, with the generous support of Humanity United, which also funded this research in Ecuador. Verité has also carried out research on labor exploitation in Malaysia and released a palm oil commodities report highlighting risks across the sector. Furthermore, Verité has engaged with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to promote new measures to combat forced labor and human trafficking in palm oil supply chains.

This report is another important contribution to the literature on human and labor rights risks in palm oil production globally. Thus far, there has been very little research on conditions in palm oil production in Ecuador, Latin America’s largest producer. Research carried out by Verité and REACH (Research-Education-Action-Change) found a number of risks including indicators of forced labor, unethical recruitment and hiring practices, wage and hour violations, child labor, discrimination against women and minorities, environmental damage, and displacement. Verité found that several factors heightened workers’ vulnerability, including competition for a limited number of jobs, the involvement of labor brokers in the recruitment and management of workers, and the displacement of Colombian refugees who are forced to migrate to Ecuador, where the palm oil sector constitutes one of the only sources of employment available to them outside of illegal activities.

Verité found that Colombian immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, are extremely vulnerable to labor and human rights abuses, especially in Esmeraldas, the province with by far the highest number of Colombian immigrants and the highest rate of African palm cultivation. Approximately 1,000 Colombians flee each month from violence in Colombia, which had the second highest rate of displacement in the world after Syria, to Ecuador, which is by far the country with the largest number of Colombian refugees. These immigrants faced discrimination and threats of deportation, constraining their ability to protest unfair labor conditions and making them especially vulnerable to exploitation.

Verité research detected a large number of indicators of forced labor, including indicators of unfree recruitment, work and life under duress, and impossibility of leaving employers, especially among Colombian immigrants. Verité ’s research also uncovered additional problems faced by palm workers. These risks included wage, benefit, and working hour violations; child labor; discrimination against women, indigenous people, and people of African descent; health and safety risks; poor housing; environmental damage; harm to indigenous communities; and inadequate grievance mechanisms. For more information, along with recommendations for action, please see our in-depth report on Labor and Human Rights Risks in Ecuador’s Palm Oil Sector.

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