Palma Futuro: Preventing and Reducing Child Labor and Forced Labor in Palm Oil Supply Chains

Project Duration
January 2019
July 2024
Funding and Year

This project works to improve the implementation of social compliance systems that promote acceptable conditions of work and the prevention and reduction of child and forced labor in palm oil supply chains in Colombia and Ecuador. It also disseminates best practices in social compliance systems in these and other palm oil producing countries, particularly Brazil and Peru.

The Problem

Palm oil is an ingredient in approximately half of all packaged products bought at supermarkets, and the means of production. Risks of unacceptable conditions of work, child labor, and forced labor, have been reported in the global production of palm oil. 

A number of standard-setting social compliance systems have been established to encourage sustainable palm oil production, including certification programs, voluntary initiatives, and mandatory national standards. However, many of these initiatives have comparatively weak or insufficiently monitored and enforced criteria on labor standards relative to other social and environmental criteria. 

In South America, Colombia has emerged as the fourth-largest exporter of palm oil worldwide, and Ecuador as the eighth largest, alongside a number of other fast-growing industries in the region. As business practices and norms begin to take hold in these emerging industries, companies are well-positioned to establish sustainable social compliance systems that respect international labor standards as a fundamental operating principle. However, some companies face obstacles in adopting and implementing such systems and may require additional support and technical guidance to move forward in their efforts.

Our Strategy

The project provides technical guidance to participating palm oil companies in Colombia and Ecuador to assist them in developing robust social compliance systems. Under this approach, tools for organizational systems management are incorporated into the eight components of a social compliance system laid out in Comply Chain, USDOL’s app to support the efforts of companies that seek to address child labor and forced labor within their own supply chains. The project works to help the companies assess the risks of child labor, forced labor, and unacceptable conditions of work in their business and production processes in order to develop robust standards and a system for monitoring compliance, as well as ensuring enforcement when violations occur. The project collaborates with and builds the capacity of many different stakeholders to support social compliance, such as national palm oil business associations in Colombia and Ecuador, researchers, worker organizations, and civil society organizations.

The project also promotes "South-South" cooperation through the sharing of good practices among its participant companies in Colombia and Ecuador, as well as palm oil producers in Brazil and Peru, facilitating study tours and informational exchanges. The project also works toward engaging the global palm oil industry as a whole, for example, by participating in industry forums and publishing guidance for producers and auditors.


  • The project has provided technical assistance to more than 150 private sector partners, resulting in:
    • 80 percent of key stakeholders who attended an annual sectoral workshop demonstrated increased understanding of labor practices and risks in palm oil supply chains.
    • 30 suppliers have completed assessments and developed a compliance improvement plan.
    • 26 personnel of the private sector partners’ Social Performance Teams were trained on labor performance standards. They in turn have trained their suppliers.
    • 27 community circles have been formed in palm production areas. With project support, these groups have identified labor issues affecting their communities and documented actions they will take to advocate and secure improvements from palm production companies.
  • As the pandemic took hold in South America, Palma Futuro quickly pivoted to identify and provide resources for palm sector workers and private sector partners to address the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace. The project’s COVID-19 communications campaign reached palm sector workers with messages on health and safety precautions, recognizing symptoms, and accessing medical assistance. 
  • The project surveyed palm sector workers on their working conditions and pandemic-related needs and held conversations with community leaders to help shape guidance, training, and tools for private sector partners on mitigating COVID-19 risks in their supply chains. 
  • More than 100 palm oil private sector partners, suppliers and stakeholder organizations in Colombia and Ecuador have participated in trainings to introduce the purpose and scope of social compliance systems. The project has delivered baseline assessments of six partner companies’ social compliance systems and coached 84 staff at these organizations to develop improvement plans.
Partners of the Americas
Implementing Partners:
JE Austin Associates, Social Accountability International
Contact Information:
(202) 693-4843 / Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT)
Child Labor
Palm Oil
Private Sector
Social Compliance
Supply Chains