Palma Futuro is a project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) and implemented by Partners of the Americas (POA) and its partners, Social Accountability International (SAI) and J.E. Austin Associates (JAA).

Palm oil is an ingredient in approximately half of all packaged products bought at supermarkets. In South America, Colombia has emerged as the fourth-largest exporter of palm oil worldwide, and Ecuador as the eighth largest. Working closely with leading private sector partners in the palm oil sector, Palma Futuro aims to improve the implementation of social compliance systems that promote acceptable conditions of work and reduce child labor and forced labor in palm oil supply chains in Colombia and Ecuador. The project will also disseminate best practices in social compliance systems in these and other palm oil-producing countries, particularly Brazil and Peru.

Palma Futuro is guided by two expected outcomes: 1) Strengthened capacity of private sector partners in the Colombian and Ecuadorian palm oil sector to implement a robust and sustainable social compliance system, and 2) Increased understanding, at regional and global levels, of promising practices in social compliance systems in palm oil supply chains.

Palma Futuro will also be in charge of the preparation of various knowledge products that are part of a regional and global collaboration strategy that includes participation in international forums, development of national workshops in the target countries, and knowledge management of lessons learned throughout the project.

Partners of the Americas is an NGO based in Washington D.C., United States, founded in 1964 with the aim of creating ties of regional cooperation and social development between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean. In Colombia, specifically, POA has worked for over 50 years in the following areas: education and youth exchange; combatting child labor promoting youth leadership; and agriculture and food security.

Funding is provided by the United States Department of Labor under the cooperative agreement number IL-32820-18-75-K. 100 percent of the total costs of the project is financed with federal funds, for a total of 6,000,000 US dollars.

Acronyms: Partners of the Americas (POA), U.S Department of Labor (USDOL), Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Network of Companies for Ecuador Free of Child Labor (ETI Network), Social Performance Teams (SPT)

Palma Futuro is implemented in the departments of Magdalena and Cesar in Colombia and in the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas in Ecuador. Likewise, the project will share its successful experiences related to social compliance systems with relevant stakeholders in Brazil and Peru.

Through Fedepalma and Propalma, the project is expected to transfer knowledge, promote the replication of social compliance systems, and disseminate best practices and lessons learned derived from project activities, throughout its members in Colombia and Ecuador.

Palma Futuro has several strategic allies that represent the institutional framework of the palm sector in Colombia and Ecuador, which are presented below:

According to USDOL-ILAB, a social compliance system is an integrated set of policies and practices through which a company seeks to ensure maximum adherence to the elements of its code of conduct, or that of an industry association or group of multiple stakeholders, covering social and labor issues. These systems are a component of the programs of Corporate Social Responsibility, sustainability, or management of a company.

*For more information, see https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/ and download the Comply Chain: Business Tools for Labor Compliance in Global Supply Chains app developed by the United States Department of Labor at https: // www.dol.gov/general/apps/ilab-comply-chain

Funding is provided by the United States Department of Labor under the cooperative agreement number IL-32820-18-75-K. 100% of the total costs of the project are financed with federal funds, for a total of 6,000,000 U.S. dollars.

Partners of the Americas and Fedepalma sign Memorandum of Understanding

Partners of the Americas and Fedepalma signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together on the implementation of the Palma Futuro project, which includes the implementation of a social compliance system to promote sustainable labor practices. Palma Futuro complements the work currently being carried out with the Sustainable Palm Oil Program of Colombia, which seeks to consolidate the production of sustainable palm oil.

Palma Futuro shares a case study with Harvard University

On November 24 and 25 of the year 2019, the Palma Futuro project team visited Harvard University, within the framework of the “26th Group on Private, Public, Scientific, Academic and Consumer Food Policies” (PAPSAC1), organized by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.

For 26 years, Harvard professor emeritus, Dr. Ray A. Goldberg, has led a symposium that addresses global food security and public policy issues, and this year Partners of the Americas was invited to the event with our partner JE Austin Associates to share the main topics of the first draft of the case study on the experience and good labor practices in the Colombian palm oil company Palmas del Cesar.

Partners of the Americas and RSPO sign Memorandum of Understanding to promote Social Compliance Systems

As part of the implementation of the Palma Futuro project, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Partners of the Americas and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The document establishes the bases for collaboration between Partners and RSPO for the promotion and dissemination of good practices resulting from the implementation of the Palma Futuro project, with the aim of preventing and reducing child labor, forced labor and promoting acceptable working conditions. The Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations will also analyze the dissemination of a series of case studies that will be sent to Harvard University on good practices in Social Compliance Systems in other palm oil producing countries in Latin America, particularly Brazil and Peru.

Participation in the VIII Latam RSPO Conference in Campeche, Mexico

Palma Futuro's Project Director was a panelist on the conference "Working conditions in the palm oil industry in Colombia and Ecuador". During the conference, Palma Futuro's Project Director presented USDOL's Comply Chain approach, the practical implementation that Palma Futuro is undertaking through SAI's SA8000 standard, to finally highlight the importance of adopting higher standards to promote labor rights and take into account child labor and forced labor as key issues in the palm oil industry. Additionally, Palma Futuro's Project Director presented the primary results of the Palmas del Cesar case study, highlighting the best practices regarding labor issues and showing, based on this study, a real case where labor rights, private sector priorities and the interests of small producers can find a balance.

Case study: Palmas del Cesar

"Formalization and social dialogue as contributions to labor peace: case study in Palmas del Cesar"

By: Dr. Kenneth L. Hoadley, Associate, J. E. Austin, Associates, Inc. and Dr. John C. Ickis, Emeritus Professor INCAE Business School.

The Palmas del Cesar (Palcesar) case study was developed in late 2019, a time of rapidly changing forces in the global palm industry where palm oil consumption had increased by 60% between 2010 and 2019. Concerns over the vast deforestation of jungles in Malaysia and Indonesia, where 85% of the world’s palm oil was produced, as well as overly-abusive labor practices in those same countries, led to demands for the production and certification of “sustainable” palm oil, or palm oil meeting international standards regarding environmental and social practices, by international organizations such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Rainforest Alliance. At the same time, as palm oil production outpaced growing demand, prices plunged to record lows by September.

In Colombia, the palm oil industry faced these and other challenges. From 2012 to 2015, palm oil companies were adjusting to changes in legislation governing the use of subcontractors or labor outsourcing schemes to meet their needs for field labor while workers increasingly demanded an end to abusive practices related to the use of labor outsourcing.

At Palcesar, based in Bucaramanga with oil palm plantations in neighboring Cesar, these demands led to two prolonged strikes which came to an end in 2015 with the elimination of labor outsourcing and the formalization of direct contracts between the company and its workers. To Fabio González, Palcesar’s general manager, labor formalization was much more than a means of contracting: “Formalization brings new challenges, which need to be managed, but the first great outcome is social peace. It’s being able to look at one another with trust again. It’s being able to look at one another with respect again. It’s being able to feel that we’re in this together, to build a future together.”

Among the many benefits of the successful resolution of Palcesar’s labor issues was the certification of the palm oil produced on Palcesar’s own plantations as “sustainable palm oil”, in compliance with RSPO’s social and environmental standards. But while the palm fruit produced on the company´s own plantations was certified, only a third of the fruit received by its extractor mill came from these plantations; the remainder was sourced from over 300 associate producers, mostly smallholders unable to bear the cost of labor formalization without changing their practices and boosting their productivity levels.

Fabio understands that improved labor practices among his over 300 associate producers are necessary, not only to enable Palcesar to sell RSPO-certified palm oil, but also, and more importantly, as part of an integrated approach to improve rural incomes and the sustainability of smallholder oil palm production in Palcesar’s area of influence. Given the history of conflict in many parts of rural Colombia, he realizes that lasting peace and social stability can only be obtained through improved and stable incomes for both smallholder producers and rural labor, through greater productivity and improved labor practices.

Commemoration of The World Day Against Child Labor: June 2020

The Colombian Network against Child Labor, POA, and the International Labor Organization, with the special support of the ETI Network of Ecuador, organized the webinar titled “Pandemic COVID-19: Challenges for the fight against child labor in Colombia and Ecuador”. In this webinar, participants discussed the role of companies and the measures they can take to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on children and adolescents, specifically in relation to the prevention and eradication of child labor. In addition, the progress and experiences of all participating organizations were shared to address, in a more diverse conversation, the initiatives to prevent and eliminate child labor in Colombia and Ecuador.

Labor rights and prevention of child labor during the Covid-19 pandemic

In September 2020, Palma Futuro concluded a communications initiative to promote acceptable working conditions and prevent child labor within medium and small palm oil producers during the sanitary emergency due to COVID-19. Palma Futuro developed the contents of a printed infographic piece that was distributed to the targeted palm oil producers in Magdalena and Cesar by Fedepalma. This printed material emphasized on the importance of labor rights and child labor prevention regarding the challenges the pandemic posed to the industry. 2,000 copies were printed and distributed.

Collaboration with Roundtable for Sustainable Oil (RSPO), PROAmazonía and Propalma

On March 26, 2021, Palma Futuro in collaboration with Roundtable for Sustainable Oil (RSPO), PROAmazonía and Propalma held the workshop on Social Compliance Systems, labor practices and risks in the palm oil supply chain with organizations in Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Peru. This first Annual Sector Workshop was carried out with the objective of understanding the role of companies, the challenges and the good practices implemented by the sector to face labor and social risks as a result of the COVID19 crisis. Likewise, advances and experiences from the sector were shared to address these realities.