The Secretariat of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) has viewed the serious allegations of sexual harassment and assault as reported by the Associated Press with grave concern.

The Secretariat of CPOPC will look into the allegations as a matter of urgency. The Secretariat is appreciative of investigative journalism to highlight issues in the palm oil industry but questions the selective reporting by Associated Press reporters. The statements from a few unconfirmed interviews were selected as an intentional slur to harm the image of palm oil as a whole.

Rape is a criminal offense in Indonesia and Malaysia. The CPOPC member countries as well as all of its stakeholders do not tolerate nor condone any violations of national laws which protect the rights of women to a fair and safe working environment. The palm oil industry is no exception.

The Secretariat will therefore recommend that affected palm oil producing countries to investigate the reported cases. It is important for the governments concerned and other stakeholders of the industry to shed more light on the allegations. Greater transparency, good governance, firm policies and procedures are an integral part of the sustainable palm oil standards in the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification schemes.

The Secretariat understands the extreme sensitivities and the reluctance of victims to report perpetrators and hence expects that the Associated Press will work with the relevant agencies and ministries to bring these perpetrators to face the full force of the law.

However, extra caution should be made not to generalize perhaps isolated lamentable incidents into a black campaign against palm oil.

The palm oil industry regards women in the sector as key to the success of meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Palm oil producing countries in the Asia Pacific, Africa and Central and Latin America are committed to develop the industry to attain the Sustainable Development Goals 2030. These include fair pay for work and gender equality which affords women the same opportunities for advancement in the workplace for better livelihoods.

The elimination of sexual discrimination as well as harassment in the workplaces of the palm oil industry is of utmost priority for CPOPC. The industry commits to human-centred development by putting the wellbeing, respect and protection of human rights, including rights of workers and women, in its core mission.

As part of its strong commitment and transparency, the Secretariat will share results of the investigations by the parties concerned on the allegations. On the other hand, CPOPC cannot accept and will fight smear campaigns, prompted by different motives and interests, directed at the palm oil industry.