Protecting Childhood: Navigating Child Labor Laws in Indonesia's Palm Oil Industry

Protecting Childhood: Navigating Child Labor Laws in Indonesia's Palm Oil Industry
Illustration of child labor in oil palm plantations. Saputra

Child labor in the palm oil plantation sector poses significant dangers to children. It is crucial for states, companies, and communities to work together to prevent children from being employed in hazardous conditions, protect their rights, and provide access to education and support to safeguard their well-being. However, there is still work to be done in effectively enforcing these measures and ensuring compliance across the industry. The EU Deforestation Regulation now requires stringent adherence to sustainable practices, including the prohibition of products linked to deforestation and human rights abuses. This regulation serves as a vital step towards holding companies accountable and promoting ethical sourcing practices within the palm oil industry.

The Palm Oil Industry
The palm oil industry is the largest employer in Indonesia. It currently employs around 8 million people, which is 3.5% of the workforce and contributes between 9-17% of the GDP. As the industry contributes largely to household incomes, particularly in rural areas where plantations cover the land for hundreds of kilometers and entire families may live and work inside a plantation operated by a single company. The Indonesian government requires palm oil plantations to comply with child labor restrictions

Indonesian Law

The Indonesian government has ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions related to eradicating child labor which demonstrates its commitment to eliminating child labor and protecting children's rights. Firstly, ILO Convention No. 138 (Minimum Age Convention, 1973) stated the minimum age for employment to ensure that children are not employed in work that can harm their health, safety, or morals. It generally sets 15 years as the minimum age for employment, though 14 years is acceptable for developing countries. Hazardous work is prohibited for anyone under the age of 18. Secondly, ILO Convention No. 182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999) which focuses on eliminating the worst forms of child labor, which include slavery, child trafficking, forced labor, child prostitution, child pornography, and work that is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children.

As a follow-up to this ratification, the Indonesian government passed a constitution concerning employment, which prohibited the employment of children. According to the Indonesian Law No. 13 of 2003 concerning Employment, as stated in Article 69 “Children aged 13-15 years are allowed to do light work, as long as it does not interfere with their physical, mental, and social development and health; along with having the required written permission, work agreement, clear employment relationship and wage provisions.” whereas in Article 74 stated that “It is prohibited to employ and involve children in the worst forms of work. Types of work that endanger the health, safety, or morals of children are determined by a Ministerial Decree.”

Child Labor is a Problem

Grievance Report from

Child labor remains a pervasive issue within the palm oil industry, with numerous reports and studies highlighting its prevalence and detrimental effects on children. Amnesty International, operating extensively in Indonesia, reported alarming cases of child labor exploitation in palm oil plantations across the country. Their 2016 investigation documented numerous instances of children as young as eight being subjected to hazardous working conditions, including exposure to harmful chemicals and long hours of manual labor. These findings underscore the urgent need for stronger enforcement of child labor laws and increased accountability within the industry to protect the rights and well-being of vulnerable children.

We track this grievance case and many others in, subscribers can look under their company grievances tab to see it was linked to their supply chain.

The Dangers to Children

A child carries palm kernels collected from the ground at a palm oil plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

Child labor in the palm oil plantation sector poses significant dangers, including exposure to harmful chemicals, risk of injuries, heat poisoning, forced labor, and developmental impairment. Commonly reported issues include severe physical strain from carrying heavy loads, cuts and bruises from handling sharp tools, respiratory problems from inhaling pesticides, long working hours leading to exhaustion, lack of access to education, and psychological trauma from exploitative working conditions. These hazards compromise the immediate well-being of child laborers and jeopardize their long-term health and development.

Government and Regulatory Actions
The EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) has social implications for companies operating in the EU. While the regulation primarily focuses on protecting global forests from deforestation, it also requires companies to adhere to local and international human rights and labor laws in their supply chains. Companies must ensure they uphold these laws throughout their entire supply chain, including engaging with smallholders who produce commodities covered by the EUDR.

Smallholders, who play a significant role in producing commodities affected by the EUDR, face challenges in complying with the regulation due to limited resources and difficulties in meeting social welfare criteria. Companies need to find ways to include smallholders in their compliance efforts to avoid falling short of the EUDR's social requirements.

Addressing child labor in Indonesia's palm oil industry requires coordinated efforts from governments, companies, and communities. The enforcement of stringent regulations and adherence to international labor standards are crucial steps in protecting children and promoting ethical practices within the industry. The EU Deforestation Regulation represents a significant move toward ensuring that products linked to deforestation and human rights abuses are eliminated from the supply chain, highlighting the need for global accountability and sustainable development. By working together, we can safeguard the future of children and create a more ethical and sustainable palm oil industry.