The Department of Labor’s

Exposing Exploitation in Global Supply Chains Series

From Plantations to Your Pantry

How Palm Oil Produced with Child Labor and Forced Labor Ends Up in Household Products

Palm oil is an ingredient in countless products we consume, from personal care products to cooking oils. Palm oil comes from palm fruit, or the fruit of the oil palm tree, much of which is harvested in Indonesia and Malaysia under exploitative labor conditions. How does this little-known ingredient end up in so many of the goods we use at home?

Photo Credit: © migin/iStock A palm oil worker.

From West Africa to Southeast Asia, workers on palm plantations suffer child labor and forced labor. Children and adults who harvest palm fruit are sometimes subjected to excessive work hours and sexual violence, and unable to access their rights.

Recognizing these conditions, the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor includes palm fruit from Indonesia and Malaysia for child labor and forced labor, and Sierra Leone for child labor.

Child Labor

Child labor, under international standards, means work (excluding permissible light work) below the minimum age as established under national legislation—usually 14 or 15 years old—as well as the worst forms of child labor which, for children under the age of 18, includes all forms of slavery, commercial sexual exploitation, illicit activities, and hazardous work that is likely to harm their health, safety, or morals.

Forced Labor

Forced labor, under international standards, is defined as "All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered [themselves] voluntarily." (ILO Forced Labor Convention, 1930 (No. 29))

In addition to the fundamental ILO Conventions 29 and 105 that establish basic principles in support of the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor, the ILO has identified 11 indicators of forced labor. These indicators are workplace conditions that are often associated with forced labor.

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor

Despite these abuses, palm oil is an ingredient found in hundreds of everyday products, from soap to cosmetics to margarine

Animal Feed

Animal Feed

Baked Goods

Baked Goods





Cooking Oils

Cooking Oils



Infant Formula

Infant Formula

Soap and Shampoo


Where does palm oil come from?

Most of the world’s palm oil (approximately 84%) comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, where fruit from the oil palm tree is harvested on plantations and processed into crude and refined palm oils. These oils are shipped around the world, further processed, and used as ingredients in countless products that are exported.




World Production of Palm Oil - Data from USDA (2022)

RankCountryPercent of
World Production
7Papua New Guinea1%
10Côte d’Ivoire1%

Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil
in the world

Most palm oil plantations in Indonesia are located in Sumatra and Borneo islands, with the largest concentrations in the provinces of Riau, North Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

A map of Indonesia, marking regions that produces palm oil. The largest concentrations are found in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Child Labor and Forced Labor on Indonesian Palm Plantations*

*all names in this story are fictional

Tristan is a migrant worker from East Nusa Tenggara Province in Indonesia. Opportunities in his hometown are hard to come by, so Tristan sought a job from a local recruiter to work on a palm oil plantation in Central Kalimantan, on another island far away from home.

When he arrived at the plantation, he was compelled to work in poor conditions under an unreasonable and exploitative quota system. Tristan, along with the other plantation workers, was forced to meet a steep daily quota of fresh fruit bunches. If he did not harvest enough of these fruits from oil palm trees, he would lose wages or even his job. Fearing these consequences, Tristan regularly worked late into the night, without overtime pay, straining to meet his quota in the isolated plantation’s hot and humid climate.

Often, Tristan’s wife, Endang, would help him so that he could meet his quota and earn his daily wages. Endang is not a worker at the company, but like other family members—including children—she lives at the plantation and becomes involved in the harvest, forced to work out of necessity.

Children of all ages also help their parents on plantations. After coming home from school, they pick up loose palm fruits, often for hours on end. Sometimes they even work during the school day or drop out of school to help their families. According to Indonesian laws and regulations, the working conditions on palm plantations are considered hazardous work for children.

At the plantation, Tristan, Endang, and others work in unsafe conditions. They use dangerous tools such as long sickles and machetes to harvest palm fruit bunches from the trees. They carry heavy loads and, without any personal protective equipment, they apply pesticides to crops and fields, which is hazardous to workers’ health.

"I work as a helper with my husband to pick up loose fruit.
I do not get paid."


After being harvested under exploitative conditions, palm fruit begins its long journey through a complex global supply chain.

Dense fresh fruit bunches are transported to nearby mills by the truckload, where individual palm fruits are sterilized and stripped from the bunch.

The palm fruit is then processed into two main palm oil products: crude palm oil—extracted from the flesh of the palm fruit—and crude palm kernel oil—extracted from the kernels, or seeds, at the center of the palm fruit. At this stage, crude palm oil and crude palm kernel oil may be exported to other countries or transported to a local refinery for further processing.

Photo Credit: © slpu9945/iStock Palm oil, a well-balanced healthy edible oil, is now an important energy source for humans. Palm oil comes from the fruit itself (reddish orange). Today it is widely acknowledged as a versatile and nutritious vegetable oil, trans fat free with a rich content of vitamins and antioxidants. January 29, 2016.


Palm oil is shipped from Indonesia in both crude and refined forms to global destinations around the world, including the U.S., India, Malaysia,
and China.

Crude palm oil is processed into many different products

At the refinery stage, crude palm oil and crude palm kernel oil can be processed into different products. The oils can be refined, bleached, and deodorized into refined palm oil and refined palm kernel oil, and further processed to create additional ingredients, such as oleochemicals, palm olein, palm stearin, sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, and palmitic acid. These are used in common consumer products like cooking oils, confectionary and pastry fillings, margarine, infant formula, cosmetics, soaps, detergents, animal feed, and biofuels.

Photo Credit: © KYTan/Shutterstock
Palm oil fruits (reddish orange) shown with everyday products that contain palm oil.

American businesses and consumers buy products every day that are made with palm oil tainted by labor abuse.

The Department of Labor’s Better Trade Tool shows how American businesses import millions of dollars of palm oil from Indonesia.

Better Trade Tool logo

The Department of Labor is informing the public.

Our research shows that the following palm oil products are produced with an input made by child labor and forced labor.


Palm oil supply chain flow chart

How can governments and companies respond to these challenges and protect workers in the palm oil supply chain?

Government, private sector, and multistakeholder efforts have the goal of improving conditions throughout the palm oil supply chain. The Indonesian government is mandating Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) Plantation Certification for all plantation growers in the country by 2025.  Other bodies with certification schemes include the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO). Still, additional efforts are needed to address child labor and forced labor.

Below are ILAB’s recommendations for actors across the palm oil supply chain:

Learn more through DOL's reports and tools

findings on the worst forms of child labor

TDA Report

Focusing on the efforts of certain U.S. trade beneficiary countries and territories to eliminate the worst forms of child labor through legislation, enforcement mechanisms, policies, and social programs.


list of good produced with child labor or forced labor


Listing goods that ILAB has reason to believe are produced by child labor or forced labor, including, to the extent practicable, goods that are produced with inputs that are produced with forced labor or child labor.


list of products produced by forced or indentured child labor

EO List

Containing goods and their source countries that ILAB, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, have reason to believe are made by forced or indentured child labor.

ILAB Sweat and Toil mobile app logo

Sweat & Toil: Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking Around the World is a comprehensive resource developed by ILAB documenting child labor and forced labor worldwide. Data and research in this app are taken from ILAB's three flagship reports. This app fits these three information-packed reports the size of a phone book in the palm of your hand.

ILAB Comply Chain mobile app logo

To help mitigate child labor and forced labor risks, Comply Chain: Business Tools for Labor Compliance in Global Supply Chains, targets companies and industry groups seeking to develop robust social compliance systems for their global production. Comply Chain provides a practical, step-by-step guide on critical elements of social compliance and is designed for companies that do not have a social compliance system in place or those needing to strengthen their existing systems.

ILAB Better Trade Tool logo

The Better Trade Tool empowers users to advance efforts in supply chain transparency as well as strategic sourcing priorities. This innovative tool integrates existing reporting developed by ILAB with U.S. import trade data, including Harmonized Tariff Schedule codes. The Better Trade Tool is intended to serve as a resource for users interested in learning about labor exploitation risks in global supply chains.

OCFT Knowledge Portal

Check out the ILAB Knowledge Portal, a valuable tool for researchers, civil society organizations, other governments, and international organizations seeking to implement good practices in addressing child labor and forced labor worldwide. The portal makes grant-funded resources and evaluation report learnings publicly available and searchable online.

ILAB Knowledge Portal

To learn more, visit our supply chain hub!

DOL supply chain research