The massive $65 billion sector relies on palm oil plantations in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, where entire families often work backbreaking 12-hour days for minimal pay, the AP found.
The outlet estimated that tens of thousands of child laborers work in the industry in the two nations and are often forced to forgo their educations to do so.
The world’s most-consumed vegetable oil is used in a wide variety of foods produced by companies like Kellogg’s, Nestle, Pepsi and Unilever, according to the AP.
Ferrero, one of two firms that produce wildly popular Girl Scout Cookies, also uses palm oil, the report found.
In addition to long hours and scant pay, children on palm plantations are often exposed to toxic chemicals and can be vulnerable to smuggling and sex trafficking, the AP said.
“In some cases, an entire family may earn less in a day than a $5 box of Girl Scout Do-si-dos,” the report stated.
Poverty-stricken kids often follow their families into the palm oil fields in order to bolster their meager income. Doing so frequently makes schooling impossible.
The AP reported that the substance is used in about half of all products on supermarket shelves and in most cosmetic brands.
The outlet contacted several companies that use palm oil to press them about the prevalence of child labor in its production.
Several responded by saying they rely on suppliers to not run afoul of standards and local laws. Some pledged to sever relations with any producers found in violation.
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