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Girl Scout Cookies Tied To Child Labor In Indonesia, Malaysia: Report

By Thomas Catenacci

Girl Scout cookies are made with palm oil that can be traced back to child labor in Malaysia and Indonesia, according to an Associated Press report.

The mass production of palm oil — made by crushing palm kernels — in Malaysia and Indonesia using child labor can be tied to cereal, candy, and ice cream products distributed by Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg’s, and PepsiCo, according to U.S. Customs and private import data reviewed by The Associated Press. Ferrero, which is one of the makers of Girl Scout cookies, also has ties to the massive child labor industry in the two countries.

“I thought Girl Scouts was supposed to be about making the world a better place,” Girl Scout Olivia Chaffin told The AP. “But this isn’t at all making the world better.”

Chaffin, a 14-year-old Girl Scout from Tennessee, investigated how the cookies she sold were manufactured, according to The AP. She has written multiple letters to the Girl Scouts of the USA since finding out that the palm oil used in their cookies comes from sustainable and unsustainable sources.

While many American food makers belong to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an organization that certifies ethical production of palm oil with more then 4,000 members, problems persist, according to The AP. Only a few complaints related to child labor in Malaysia and Indonesia have been made in the organization’s grievance system.

“It is an issue, and we know it’s an issue,” Dan Strechay, RSPO’s global outreach and engagement director, told The AP.

He added that for people in the two countries, it is normal to pull children from school to work alongside their parents in the field.

The Girl Scouts of the USA is a member of the RSPO, meaning it has agreed to use sustainable palm oil. However, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and World Wildlife Fund have both stated that RSPO membership doesn’t ensure sustainable practices.

“The RSPO promises sustainable palm oil. But it doesn’t mean that that palm oil is free of child labor or other abuses,” RAN Forest Program Director Robin Averbeck told The AP.

In addition, the International Labor Rights Forum has previously found “flagrant disregard for human rights” at plantations approved by RSPO.

More than 1.5 million children under 18-years-old are estimated to work in Indonesia’s agriculture industry, which includes palm oil harvesting, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.

The Girl Scouts of the USA and RSPO did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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