Any real women need Sumatra

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He then put an ax to her throat and warned her: Do not tell. At another plantation, a woman named Ola complains of fevers, coughing and nose bleeds after years of spraying dangerous pesticides with no protective gear. Hundreds of miles away, Ita, a young wife, mourns the two babies she lost in the third trimester.

Any real women need Sumatra

She regularly lugged lo several times her weight throughout both pregnancies, fearing she would be fired if she did not. The Associated Press conducted the first comprehensive investigation focusing on the brutal treatment of women in the production of palm oil, including the hidden scourge of sexual abuse, ranging from verbal harassment and threats to rape. Many are hired by subcontractors on a day-to-day basis without benefits, performing the same jobs for the same companies for years — even decades.

They often work without pay to help their husbands meet otherwise impossible daily quotas.

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The AP interviewed more than three dozen women and girls from at least 12 companies across Indonesia and Malaysia. Because reports have resulted in retaliation against workers, they are being identified only by partial names or nicknames. They met with female AP reporters secretly within their barracks or at hotels, coffee shops or churches, sometimes late at night, usually with no men present so they could speak openly.

The Malaysian government said it had received no reports about rapes on plantations, but Indonesia acknowledged physical and sexual abuse appears to be a growing problem, with most victims afraid to speak out. Reporters also interviewed nearly other workers, activists, government officials and lawyers, including some Any real women need Sumatra helped trapped girls and women escape, who confirmed that abuses regularly occur.

In much-smaller Malaysia, the figures are harder to nail down due to the large of foreign migrants working off the books. Some started working as children alongside their parents, gathering loose kernels and clearing brush from the trees with machetes, never learning to read or write.

And others, like a woman who gave the name Indra, dropped out of school as teenagers. I will give you a baby. Women in her family have worked on the same Malaysian plantation since her great-grandmother left India as a baby in the early s. That ensures the generational cycle endures, maintaining a cheap, built-in workforce. Out of sight, hidden by a sea of palms, women have worked on plantations since European colonizers brought the first trees from West Africa more than a century ago. As the decades passed, palm oil became an essential ingredient for the food industry, which saw it as a substitute for unhealthy trans fats.

And cosmetic companies, which were shifting away from animal- or petroleum-based ingredients, were captivated by its miracle properties: It foams in toothpaste and shaving gel, moisturizes soaps and lathers in shampoo. New workers are constantly needed to meet the relentless demand, which has quadrupled in the last 20 years alone.

Men receive nearly all the full-time permanent positions, harvesting the heavy, spiky fruit bunches and working in processing mills. On almost every plantation, men also are the supervisors, opening the door for sexual harassment and abuse. The year-old girl who described being raped by her boss — a man old enough to be her grandfather — started working on the plantation at age 6 to help her family make ends meet.

The day she was attacked inshe said the boss took her to a remote part of the estate, where her job was to ferry wheelbarrows laden with the bright orange palm oil fruits he hacked from the trees. Suddenly, she said, he grabbed her arm and started pawing her breasts, throwing her to the jungle floor. Afterward, she said, he held the ax to her throat.

Any real women need Sumatra

Nine months later, after she says he raped her four more times, she Any real women need Sumatra by a wrinkled 2-week-old boy. She made no effort to comfort him when he cried, struggling to even look at his face. Any real women need Sumatra family filed a report with police, but the complaint was dropped, citing lack of evidence. The AP heard about similar incidents on plantations big and small in both countries. Union representatives, health workers, government officials and lawyers said some of the worst examples they encountered involved gang rapes and children as young as 12 being taken into the fields and sexually assaulted by plantation foremen.

One example involved an Indonesian teen who was trafficked to Malaysia as a sex slave, where she was passed between drunk palm oil workers living under plastic tarps in the jungle, eventually escaping ravaged by chlamydia. And in a rare high-profile case that sparked outrage last year, a female preacher working at a Christian church inside an Indonesian estate was tied up among the trees, sexually assaulted by two workers and then strangled.

The men were sentenced to life in prison. While Indonesia has laws in place to protect women from abuse and discrimination, Rafail Walangitan of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection said he was aware of many problems identified by the AP on palm oil plantations, including child labor and sexual harassment.

Those familiar with the complexities of plantation life say the subject of sexual abuse has never drawn much attention and that female workers often believe little can be done about it. Many families living on plantations struggle to earn enough to cover basic costs, like electricity and rice. Desperate women are sometimes coerced into using their bodies to pay back loans from supervisors or other workers. So even in the middle of the day, the crime can happen. Even so, almost all of the pressure aimed at palm oil companies has focused on land grabs, the destruction of rainforests and the killing of endangered species such as orangutans.

Those concerns led to the formation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an association that promotes and certifies ethical production, including provisions to safeguard laborers. Its members include growers, buyers, traders and environmental watchdogs. But of the nearly grievances lodged in Indonesia and Malaysia in the last decade, most have not focused on labor until recently. And women are almost never mentioned.

The AP reached out to representatives affiliated with every cosmetic and personal goods maker mentioned in this story. Others said they were working with local nonprofits, pointed to pledges on their websites about commitments to sustainability and human rights, or noted efforts to be transparent about the processing mills in their supply chains. That includes Indonesian companies like London Sumatra, which withdrew from the RSPO last year after the association cited it for a series of labor abuses.

In some cases, women working at various palm oil companies illegally said they were ordered to hide in the jungle when sustainability auditors arrived, while others were told to smile if they encountered any visitors. The AP used U. Coty Inc. And Estee Lauder Companies Inc. When asked by AP whether specific products used palm oil or its derivatives, there was no response. One case uncovered by the AP involved a widow named Maria who said her supervisor began sexually harassing her when she first started working at a Malaysian-owned company in Indonesia.

She said she successfully fought off his advances until she returned home one night to find him inside, waiting for her. But almost two hours later, he came back and raped me a second time. She said she stayed quiet at first because he threatened her life and her job. That time, she said, she kept a semen-filled tissue as evidence.

Any real women need Sumatra

She later confronted the man Any real women need Sumatra his wife and also complained to company and union officials. She attempted to file a police report, but instead was directed to seek compensation directly from the man, a union representative said. She was never paid and ended up moving to another plantation to get away from the boss, who has since quit.

Sometimes parents force their daughter to marry her rapist to lessen the shame, often after pregnancy occurs. The province where Nengsih works borders Malaysia on the island of Borneo, which is shared by the two countries. It is a porous corridor for Indonesian workers, including women and young girls hoping to earn enough in the wealthier neighboring country to pull themselves out of poverty.

Many travel there illegally, sometimes falsifying documents or lying about their ages, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Nengsih recalled a case involving two Indonesian girls as young as 13 who were working on a Malaysian plantation with their parents and said they were repeatedly raped by the same supervisor until both became pregnant four months apart. Some haul tanks of toxic chemicals on their backs weighing more than 13 kilograms 30 poundsdispensing 80 gallons each day — enough to fill a bathtub.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in popular weedkiller Roundup, also is commonly used. Some palm oil workers who use agrochemicals daily showed the AP raw webbing between their fingers and toes, along with destroyed nails. Others had milky or red eyes and complained of dizzy spells, trouble breathing and blurry vision.

Any real women need Sumatra

Activists reported that some totally lost their sight. The workers said pesticides routinely blow back into their faces, splash onto their backs and seep into the sweaty skin on their stomachs. She said she has trouble seeing, and her face is dark and cracked from years in the sun.

Any real women need Sumatra

She twisted the silver case and stared at the glistening pink stick — first with intrigue, then with disgust. She, along with nearly all the women interviewed, complained of pelvic pain and explained how almost every phase of their reproductive health is affected.

Any real women need Sumatra

Some women are forced to undergo humiliating checks to prove they are bleeding in order to take leave during their periods. Others suffering from collapsed uteruses — caused by the weakening of the pelvic floor from repeatedly squatting and carrying overweight lo — create makeshift braces by tightly wrapping scarves or old motorbike tire tubes around their mid-sections. Some workers described the pain as so agonizing that they could find relief only by lying on their backs with their legs in the air.

Still, they are better off in many ways than migrant women working without papers in Malaysia, mostly in the bordering states of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo. She gave birth in the Any real women need Sumatra and foraged for food before finally being rescued.

In September, U. Customs and Border Protection banned all palm oil imports from FGV Holdings Berhad, which is closely affiliated with Felda, after finding indications of child and forced labor and other abuses on its plantations. Even on a day-to-day basis in Malaysia, migrant women fear arrest and deportation. And those who do venture out during emergencies can be held for weeks at the hospital until family members can collect enough money to pay exorbitant rates.

At one government facility in a border town, a menu of maternity ward prices was posted on a blue bulletin board. Groups of women interviewed by the AP in Indonesia wondered whether their arduous jobs, combined with the chemicals they handle and breathe, caused their infertility, miscarriages and stillbirths. Ita was among those who said her work affected her ability to deliver healthy babies.

In contrast, a permanent full-time female worker is entitled to three months of paid maternity leave. Every day, as her belly grew, Ita said she continued to carry back-breaking lo over acres of fields, spreading kilograms pounds of fertilizer — nearly a half-ton — over the course of a day. It died after 30 hours. Rape, abuses in palm oil fields linked to top beauty brands.

Connect with the definitive source for global and local news. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Any real women need Sumatra

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