Amnesty International has linked Aroland Holdings with labour abuses in the palm oil industry, following an investigation
Eric Parry’s 73-storey tower, 1 Undershaft, which won planning from the City of London Corporation on Monday, is being developed by Aroland Holdings – owned by the founders and owners of the world’s largest palm oil producer, Wilmar International.
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On Wednesday (30 November) Amnesty International released a report on palm oil plantations in Indonesia run by Wilmar International, revealing that children as young as eight are working in hazardous conditions.
The human rights campaign group said it had spoken to 120 workers who work on palm plantations owned by two Wilmar subsidiaries and three Wilmar suppliers in Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia. The investigation exposed a wide range of abuses including:
- Children aged 8-14 doing dangerous and difficult physical work, sometimes dropping out of school to help their parents on the plantation
- Women forced to work long hours under the threat of pay cuts, paid under the minimum wage – earning as little as US$2.50 a day in extreme cases – and kept in insecure employment without pensions or health insurance
- Workers suffering severe injuries from Paraquat, an acutely toxic chemical still used in the plantations despite being banned in the EU and by Wilmar itself
The report also traced a range of well-known products back to Wilmar’s refineries, including ones made by Kellogg’s, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive.
One Undershaft’s developer Aroland Holdings is owned by Kuok Khoon Hong, Wilmar’s chairman and chief executive, and Martua Sitorus, Wilmar’s executive deputy chairman, who has been instrumental in the development of the company’s business operations in Indonesia.
Amnesty’s business and human rights programme director Peter Frankental told the AJ: ‘Londoners will be appalled to learn that such a prominent building has a connection to child labour in Indonesia … Wilmar’s investors have a lot to answer for given the company’s track record of steadfastly ignoring the appalling abuses taking place on its Indonesian plantations.
The mayor should refuse planning permission to this and all buildings funded from unethical sources
‘Any company bidding to develop property in London should have its track record carefully examined in keeping with ethical procurement principles.’
Prominent human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell commented: ‘The mayor and secretary of state should refuse planning permission to this and all applications for buildings that are funded from unethical sources. London’s skyline must be based on moral considerations, not corporate greed and abuses. Planning permission should never be a free market for irresponsible interests.’
Amnesty senior investigator Meghna Abraham added: ‘The abuses discovered within Wilmar’s palm oil operations are not isolated incidents but are systemic and a predictable result of the way Wilmar does business.’
Both Aroland Holdings and Eric Parry Architects have declined to comment.
After the planning win on Monday, Parry described 1 Undershaft – which will crown the City of London’s famous cluster of skyscrapers – as proof of the enduring confidence in the Square Mile and ‘a tower London can be truly proud of’.
A spokesperson for Wilmar said it ‘welcomed’ Amnesty’s report, adding that it would investigate the suppliers named immediately.
‘We welcome Amnesty International’s report, as it helps highlight labour issues within the wider palm oil industry and in Indonesia specifically, and catalyse concerted efforts required to resolve these issues,’ the spokesperson said. ‘As Amnesty International indicated in the report, Wilmar was chosen as the focus of its investigation because of our size and scale.’
Planning authority the City of London Corporation does not consider sources of finance in its planning decisions. However, its procurement strategy published this year states: ‘The City Corporation will ensure that, throughout its supply chains, workers have their human and labour rights respected.’
A City of London Corporation spokesperson said: ‘In reaching decisions, the City takes into account relevant planning considerations. These include a number of factors such as the economic, design and transport considerations. Who the developers are or how they fund their project is not something that we consider in this process.
‘In addition, the developers might not either fund the scheme or be in ownership of the site when permission is granted.’
A spokesperson for the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: ‘This application is due to be referred to the mayor who will thoroughly examine the planning issues before making a final decision in due course.’
As well as boasting 132,000m² of offices plus retail and restaurant space, 1 Undershaft will feature a 2,930m² free public viewing gallery and education centre on levels 71-72, expected to be curated by the Museum of London, as well as a public space at lower ground level. On Monday, the planning committee agreed with a report by City officers arguing that such public benefits were ‘critical to the acceptability of this major development’.
A Museum of London spokesperson said: ’Our aim is to engage every London school child. We do this in many ways, and in the future this might include a learning centre at the top of One Undershaft.’