Almost a Quarter of Filipino Palm Oil Workers Are Children

Child labor is all too common on palm oil plantations in the Philippines, as a study by the Manila-based Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) found. The study looked at palm oil plantations in the Caraga region of the island of Mindanao in the Philippines and found that 24 percent of workers in the industry are children between five and 17 years old. Children working on the palm oil plantations work up to 12 hours a day, and some jobs they perform are as tough as hauling a 15 to 50 kilogram fruit bunch and loading it on a truck.

Several factors contribute to child labor on palm oil plantations: little access to employment by their family members and low wages. Daisy Arago, CTUHR executive director, said that the study found that palm oil plantations “gravely violate labor standards by not giving majority of the workers the prescribed minimum wage and by not giving them tenure even if they have worked for their respective companies or farms for decades.”

The government continues to push for the palm oil industry to be expanded, Arago said. “This is very alarming because communities have barely benefited from these [palm oil] plantations.”

“Needless to say, all gains go to businesses while the life of workers and their families are barely improving. This must change,” Arago added.

The palm oil industry in the Philippines and high unemployment

Palm oil is best produced in the tropical zone within 10 degrees north or south of the equator where all of Malaysia, Indonesia, part of Thailand and part of the Philippines are located. Most of the global supply of palm oil is produced in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, according to the Philippine Palm Oil Development Council (PPDCI). A total of 90 percent of all palm oil is produced in those three countries. The Philippines only has 46,608 hectares of planted palm oil compared to 7.5 million hectares for Indonesia, 4.5 million hectares for Malaysia and 625,000 for Thailand. Over 50 percent of the expansion in the three major palm oil producing countries occurred within the last decade.

A study on the economic situation by the CTUHR cited the latest statistics from the Filipino government’s National Statistics Office which showed that child labor increased by up to 30 percent from 4.2 million in 2001 to 5.5 million in 2011. The majority of child laborers work on farms.

There is a reason for the increase in child labor, as the study showed. Underemployment has increased during the last decade, the study found. Part-time workers increased from 17.8 percent to 19.3 percent. Workers in “precarious” employment (which is defined as short-term, casual and seasonal) increased by 15 percent from 2001 to 2011. The latest government plan in February 2012 showed that 2.6 million (32 percent or one in three) of workers in businesses with over 20 employees are not regular employees, a 28.1 percent increase since 2008. The quality of the jobs available remain low, with the total number of unemployed and underemployed increasing by up to 780,000. One out of every four Filipino workers lives below the poverty line.

Photo: Flickr user, ecoblueprint

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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