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

Project Duration
January 2019
December 2022
Funding and Year

This project works to improve the implementation of social compliance systems that promote acceptable conditions of work and prevent or reduce child and forced labor in palm oil supply chains in Colombia and Ecuador. It will also disseminate best practices for 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.. In many parts of the world, it is produced under unacceptable working conditions, including the use of child and forced labor. Plantations are often located in remote areas, where employers may violate the law with impunity; and workers who labor under informal work agreements, and/or are recruited by unscrupulous agents, are vulnerable to debt bondage.

Industry associations and individual companies have established a number of standard-setting social compliance systems 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

Palma Futuro provides technical guidance to participating palm oil companies in Colombia and Ecuador to assist them in developing robust social compliance systems. To do this, the project draws upon tools for organizational systems management, which are incorporated into the eight components of a social compliance system laid out in ComplyChain, USDOL’s app to support companies seeking to address child labor and forced labor within their own supply chains. The project helps 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. Palma Futuro also collaborates with and builds the capacity of other stakeholders to support social compliance, such as national palm oil business associations in Colombia and Ecuador, researchers, worker organizations, and civil society organizations.


  • 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: / Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT)