The most highly consumed vegetable oil in the United States comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. These countries supply 85% of the global supply of palm oil, a $65 billion industry.
An investigation by the Associated Press found that workers in these countries are not well paid (estimates suggest that entire families are paid less than $5/day), and are exposed to hazardous materials and harmful working conditions. It is estimated that tens of thousands of children work on plantations that produce palm oil. Palm oil is routinely used in cereal, candies, ice cream, and cookies. Regular purchasers of palm oil include: Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg's, PepsiCo, and Ferrero, one of the makers of Girl Scout cookies.
Children working in palm oil harvesting have reported working 12-hour days, being slashed and cut by the sharp edges of the plant, and not having the proper shoes or gloves to complete the harvesting safely. In addition, they are working in areas where elsewhere banned herbicides and pesticides have been heavily used, leaving them exposed to significant known toxins. Abuse of children in palm oil production has been confirmed by the U.S. government and the United Nations.
This area of the world has a farming culture that has existed for many generations. "For 100 years, families have been stuck in a cycle of poverty and they know nothing else than work on a palm oil plantation," says Kartika Manurung who has investigated plantation abuses of children. She continues, "When I ask the kids what they want to be when they grow up, some of the girls say, 'I want to be the wife of a palm oil worker.'" There are many implications to the growing use of this product.