Empowering Indonesian women in palm oil earns Cargill IBIE sustainability award

By Kristine Sherred

- Last updated on GMT

Cargill employs more than 6,000 women in all capacities at its palm oil plantation in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Pic: Getty Images/adiartana
Cargill employs more than 6,000 women in all capacities at its palm oil plantation in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Pic: Getty Images/adiartana

Related tags Palm oil Sustainability Women women's health Indonesia Transparency empowerment Sustainable agriculture Cargill IBIE

The global supplier built a fiscal and civic support program in South Sumatra, Indonesia, to nurture women in leadership roles – an important part of its 2020 palm oil transparency commitment.

IBIE – being held in Las Vegas from September 7-11 – will honor the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based company at the Best in Baking Lounge. The triannual Baking Expo recognizes companies for their work in four major categories: sustainability, supply chain innovation, workforce development and production innovation.

Cargill took top honors in the ingredient sustainability category, which looks for programs aimed at energy and water conservation, landfill reduction, healthy living or any combination of efforts to reduce industry’s effect on the environment.

Eight other suppliers, including Bay State Milling, Corbion and Palsgaard, earned honorable mentions.

“Internally, it’s a great recognition that our palm plantation team gets the recognition we think they deserve,”​ sustainability manager Tai Ullmann told BakeryandSnacks.

“Externally, it really helps showcase stories and policies and programs that are working for us, and we hope it inspires others to develop their own policies and programs to empower women as well.”

Policies in action

Cargill acquired its South Sumatra plantation in 1995 and committed to seven 'guiding principles,’ including obeying the law, doing business with integrity, and treating people with dignity and respect.

“We realized that to really supplement those principles and bring them to life … we needed employee committees to ensure the rights of women were upheld​,” said Ullman.

Palm oil – as with most industries – has long been dominated by men. Cargill employs more than 6,000 women (plus another 13,000 men) in Southeast Asia, but women nonetheless face challenges, particularly in balancing work with family and developing their careers.

In 2018, the company introduced a series of workplace benefit programs, like three months of maternity leave for new mothers and breastfeeding support, plus tools and education to prevent discrimination.

“It’s really important that not only is your work environment free of discrimination, but you also view a path to develop your career,”​ said Ullmann.

This gender-neutral approach to hiring – focusing instead on skills and experience – reassures women employees that they have a future in the company.

PalmPlantation9 Cargill
Working in the field at Cargill's South Sumatra palm plantation. Pic: Cargill

“Having that piece has been really impactful.”

She emphasized that, although harassment has not been ‘a big problem’ at the Cargill plantation in Sumatra, cases can still go unreported. The anti-discrimination policies “encourage the right workplace behavior,”​ while providing an avenue for women to report problems.

The 2018 program also laid the groundwork for employee-led committees, which track and address harassment reports. They also provide a space to educate employees – and potentially offer policy ideas to Cargill – through seminars and services focused on women’s rights and the challenges faced by working mothers.

“What was really exciting for us to see was that women really stepped up to help support these networks and lead them,” ​said Ullmann. “Committees only work if the women involved in them are active … helping to grow [them] and make them as useful as possible.”

As with any male-dominated industry, discrimination and harassment “can be a systemic issue, but having these committees allows us to start to address that​. Having that space and that avenue for support is important.”

Education and daycare

Cargill’s initiative also strives to tackle the necessity of childcare and the importance of education: women (and men) have access to onsite daycare, as well as free schoolling for children ages 4 to 15.

“It’s one thing to have principles and policies in place, but you need services behind it; otherwise it’s difficult to make sure they’re actually happening on the ground,” ​said Ullmann, adding these services provide flexibility and also remove what could be yet another barrier to retaining women in the workforce.

These efforts play into Cargill’s vision laid out in its 2020 Roadmap to achieve a fully transparent, traceable and sustainable palm oil supply chain.

Tackling environmental sustainability, as well as social and economic stability, are equally important.

“In the end, we won’t be sustainable unless we address all three.”

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