Employment and Income of Workers on Indonesian Oil Palm Plantations: Food Crisis at the Micro Level

Hariati Sinaga


The importance of oil palm sector for Indonesia is inevitable as the country currently serves as the world’s largest producer of crude palm oil. This paper focuses on the situation of workers on Indonesian oil palm plantations. It attempts to investigate whether the remarkable development of the sector is followed by employment opportunities and income generation for workers. This question is posed within the theoretical framework on the link between trade liberalisation and labour rights, particularly in a labour-intensive and low-skilled sector. Based on extensive field research in Riau, this paper confirms that despite the rapid development of the oil palm plantation sector in Indonesia, the situations of workers in the sector remain deplorable, particularly their employment status and income. This also attests that trade liberalisation in the sector adversely affects labour rights. The poor working conditions also have ramifications for food security at the micro level.

Keywords: Palm oil; Indonesia, Trade liberalisation; Labour rights; Employment; Income, Food security; Food crisis

Submitted: 30 August 2013; Revised: 25 October 2013; Accepted for publication: 3 December 2013; Published:20 December 2013


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