Friday, September 25, 2020

"You Young Ones" (poem)

You young ones will tell us when you get older,

You wish you'd seen clearer, you wish you'd been bolder.

Received opinion's not what it seemed,

Now you know it's not what you dreamed.

Study long, work hard and get a good job Get into the system, don't be a slob. Students? No problem, get a loan for your fees, Pay us back later, take as long as you please.

Into the workforce, at last you've got money But at the end of the month it doesn't seem funny With 2.4 children, mortgage and car You worked such long hours but it didn't go far.

Some of you enrolled for training schemes, Improved your skills, enlarged your dreams. Then you found the skills weren't needed Here, at home - to overseas the jobs were ceded.

In the majority world where life is cheap Production's a doddle and profits are steep, No cares about pensions; health and safety is crude, Fourteen hours a day keep the workforce subdued.

You joined the union, showed your grit, Even that wasn't the end of it. Agreements signed were soon annulled, The union's teeth had all been pulled.

"Make Poverty History" became the new call, By 2010 we could end it all If we all pulled together to finish the trouble. In fact the same year we saw poverty double!

"Democracy's the thing, let's spread it worldwide" With scant regard for the numbers who'd died Worldwide in previous wars of attrition. Is there really no end to imperial ambition?

Pit man against man and sect against sect, No regard for the numbers of lives that are wrecked If your name is Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney or Blair. Makes no difference; in politics, nothing is fair.

The nations' police forces - for public protection! -Have been used more and more for casual selection Of ordinary folk seeking simply a voice For issues not covered by brute market force.

It's clear what you young ones need now, not later, Is exposure to values which are somewhat greater, Like production for use and access for all, No second-class citizens with backs to the wall.

Freedom in all things, isn't that what you want?

Freedom to say, do and go where you want?

Give us a call or look on the net

The Socialist Party's the name, check out what you'll get -


Breaches of pandemic health and safety escape punishment

 The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the citation to the Iowa Premium Beef Plant in Tama, where 338 of the facility's 850 employees tested positive (40%) for Covid-19 during an April outbreak that produced one of the state's first "hot spots." 

The result was that Iowa regulators levied a $957 citation for a minor record-keeping violation by a subsidiary of one of the nation's biggest beef processing companies. The fine was originally meant to be an equally derisory twice as high. However, Iowa OSHA Administrator Russell Perry approved a settlement with the company cutting the amount in half.

The fine comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Labor Department fined JBS Foods which, with over $50 billion in annual sales, is the world's largest meat processing company—a paltry $15,615 for failing to adequately protect workers against coronavirus.

The fine also follows the revelation earlier this month that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the meatpacking industry collaborated to downplay and disregard risks to worker health during the Covid-19 pandemic.

From the horses mouth


Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, has the highest-rated show on the network. 

Carlson was recently taken to court for defamation of character by Karen McDougal who was paid for her silence about an affair she said she had with Donald Trump. To defend Carlson Fox News made a damning admission. Tucker Carlson cannot be trusted.

 Federal Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil found: 

"This “general tenor” of the show should then inform a viewer that he is not “stating actual facts” about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary.”…Fox persuasively argues…that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer “arrive with an appropriate amount of skepticism” about the statements he makes."

Fox TV concedes that this number one show presenter cannot be reasonably expected to be taken seriously and “reasonable” viewers will be skeptical that his claims are not “actual facts.”

The fact is, Carlson is a liar, and he often intentionally lies to his audience so to get them to buy into his biased ideological view of the world.

Fortress Europe to be Strengthened

 EU member states' reluctance to provide refuge to displaced people and the new proposed migration rules putting an end to asylum quotas is a victory for the nationalists. The  new migration proposals are an admission of failure. 

What is missing completely is humanity. The bureaucratic management of migration has totally triumphed over compassion.

Amnesty International said the pact was "designed to heighten walls and strengthen fences" and would do nothing to alleviate the suffering of people in camps on Greek islands or in Libya.

"The commission has bowed to pressure from EU governments whose only objective is to decrease the number of people granted protection in Europe, "said Marissa Ryan, head of Oxfam's EU office.

“The far right has captured EU migration policy,” said Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld

There are many reasons that can explain the influx of migrants coming to Europe – climate change, a lack of economic opportunity and war all among them. Perhaps not every country in the EU has contributed to all of these root causes, and they might be justified in believing they shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility for others’ problems. But they surely have a duty to not exacerbate these root problems if they wish to complain about their responsibility for migrants. 

Judith Sunderland, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, tweeted the "flexible option" means that "countries who refuse to accept responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers" will "deport people found to have no right to stay. It's like asking the school bully to walk a kid home," she added.

Kentucky and Climate Change

 Kentucky’s climate is changing quickly. The Bluegrass State is the ninth most threatened state in the country by long-term climate change impacts, according to a recent study  based on data from Climate Central. That puts it ahead of even California, where wildfires recently have wreaked havoc. Erratic weather, exceptional heat, drought, wildfires and flooding all threaten Kentucky.

Kentucky is a microcosm of the nation’s climate dilemma: the effects of the climate crisis are clear here, but legacy interests and the forces of change are at an impasse. “There’s a lag between where we need to be and where we’re at right now,” said Lane Boldman, who directs the Kentucky Conservation Committee, a nonprofit environmental policy group. “And there really isn’t a lot of time.”

 According to a study this month by Yale and George Mason universities, Kentucky is one of only four states in the country where a majority of adults do not believe global warming is caused by humans.

Coal industry ties run deep, however, and, for many, talk of change is anathema. The state legislature has mostly avoided the climate issue. And US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, by far the state’s best-known politician, has been a dedicated opponent of climate action. McConnell has accepted more than $3m from the coal, oil and gas industries over the course of his career. Critics say he’s returned the favor with handouts – tax breaks and regulatory cuts – to keep the dying industry aloft. In 2017, McConnell joined the Trump administration in urging America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate Agreement. In 2019, he engineered what he admitted was “a show vote” intended to kill the Green New Deal. Meanwhile, McConnell sits on the Senate agriculture committee but has seemed indifferent to how climate change threatens Kentucky’s sizable agricultural sector.

Similar apathy reigns in the state legislature, where Republicans hold a lock on both houses. The chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy committee, Jim Gooch, for example, told Louisville’s WFPL radio station recently that the science on climate change remains unsettled. Other legislators seem still beholden to the coal industry, reform advocates say, and to utility companies.

The coal industry employed some 38,000 Kentuckians when McConnell took office in 1985; it’s below 4,000 today. Workers in the mountainous eastern part of the state have found themselves laid off and uncompensated for their work by coal bosses. And deregulation has led to one of the worst black lung epidemics on record. Eastern Kentucky counties are among the poorest in the nation, with poverty rates around 40%. The water in some of those counties is either undrinkable or unaffordable.

Three of the five wettest years on record in the state have been in the last decade, and this summer saw the most rain of any two-month period on record going back to 1895. More rain can boost crops, but in many parts of Kentucky rain now comes in unhelpful torrents. In both the eastern mountains and urban areas, excessive rain has contributed to severe and frequent flooding. In Louisville, this year, rain has turned neighborhoods into swamps and devastated businesses. The precipitation uptick is “very much consistent” with scientific projections for how climate change will play out in the state, Stuart Foster, Kentucky’s state climatologist, said.

Climate Change and Forest Fires

 The worst wildfires in 18 years have raged across California since August. They have been responsible for more than 30 deaths and driven thousands of people from their homes. The researchers say that the conditions for wildfire are likely to continue to grow into the future, and according to Dr Jones, the resulting fires will likely get worse.

Climate change is driving the scale and impact of recent wildfires that have raged in California, say scientists. Their analysis finds an "unequivocal and pervasive" role for global heating in boosting the conditions for fire.

California now has greater exposure to fire risks than before humans started altering the climate, the authors say. Land management issues, touted by President Donald Trump as a key cause, can't by themselves explain the recent infernos.

The cause of the fires have become a political football, with California Governor Gavin Newsom blaming climate change for the conflagrations. President Trump, on the other hand, has dismissed this argument, instead pointing to land management practices as the key driver.

A review of scientific research into the reasons for these fires suggests rising temperatures are playing a major role.

Earlier this year, the same research team published a review of the origins of Australia's dramatic fires that raged in the 2019-2020 season. That study showed that climate change was behind an increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather - defined as periods of time with a higher risk of fire due to a combination of high temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and high winds.

The new review covers more than 100 studies published since 2013, and shows that extreme fires occur when natural variability in the climate is superimposed on increasingly warm and dry background conditions resulting from global warming.

"In terms of the trends we're seeing, in terms of the extent of wildfires, and which have increased eight to ten-fold in the past four decades, that trend is driven by climate change," said Dr Matthew Jones from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, who led the review. "Climate change ultimately means that those forests, whatever state they're in, are becoming warmer and drier more frequently," he told BBC News. "And that's what's really driving the kind of scale and impact of the fires that we're seeing today."

The authors of the review conclude that "climate change is bringing hotter, drier weather to the western US and the region is fundamentally more exposed to fire risks than it was before humans began to alter the global climate".

"It's pointing towards increases in fire weather that become increasingly intense, widespread and dramatic in the future," he said. "And the more that we can do to limit the degree to which temperatures rise, is fundamental to how frequently we see dangerous fire weather in the future."

The researchers acknowledge that fire management practices in the US have also contributed to the build-up of fuel. Normally, fire authorities carry out controlled burnings in some areas to reduce the amount of fuel available when a wildfire strikes - but these have also suffered as a result of rising temperatures.

"When you do prescribed burns, you can only do it when the conditions aren't too hot and dry, because you need to be able to control the fire," said Prof Richard Betts from the UK Met Office in Exeter, who was part of the review team. "But once you've passed the point where you've got hot, dry conditions for much of the year, you've lost your opportunity to do lots of prescribed burnings. So that makes matters worse and makes the land management challenge even greater."

Another factor in California has been the encroachment of human settlements into forested areas. This has put many more homes at risk of these blazes. Between 1940 and 2010, there was around a 100-fold increase in the number of houses built in dangerous fire zones in the western US.

"It's like building on floodplains as well, you know, people are putting themselves in harm's way, based on past statistics, which are no longer true," said Prof Betts. "The past is no longer a guide to the future, for flooding and for fire and lots of other ways in which climate change is played out."


 Oliver Healey writes in flowery terms (Letters, September 10).

Capitalism is not the product of a financial conspiracy, and workers have always supported and voted for the continuation of capitalism. By contrast, communists such as Karl Marx sought capitalism’s overthrow, and also rejected the reformist half-measures of his contemporary, Eduard Bernstein. So much so, the Communist manifesto concluded - in what Healey might consider oppositional and confrontational terms - that the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains; they have a world to win. This means defending tariffs and high wages are protecting the crumbs when Marxists want to capture the whole bakery.

In the here and now, collective organising can achieve better conditions, but it will be workers organising for themselves, not tariffs (or even particularly Marxists), let alone the coercing of foreign states. Ruling classes of imagined communities of ‘nations’ (all existing states, which are sort of a monopoly themselves) are part of the problem.

Jon D White

Blue no matter who

 Democrats are using Trump’s fascistic tendencies as electoral extortion and offering us grandfatherly Biden as an alternative. Working class anger is also growing. Biden is raising the expectations of working class people with plenty of promises in order to win the election. The Democrats are part of the problem and not even a temporary solution. We aren’t claiming that the Democratic  and Republican parties are exactly the same; just that the Democrats are no answer to the Republicans. Both parties are inextricably tied to the capitalist system and must defend it at home and abroad. Both have long records of handouts to the corporations. They defend the system in different ways.

At home, the Republicans are the “hard cops,” the Democrats softer. The liberals’ job is to pretend they are on the side of beleaguered workers, the racially oppressed, the unemployed and the overburdened poor. When people protest, the Democrats offer some concessions meant to contain and detour workers, not at all to meet their increasingly desperate needs. They are just as big liars as the Republicans. Supporting Democrats to stop Republicans isn’t using fire to stop a fire; it is fuelling a growing blaze. Their function is to demobilize potential mass unrest, not encourage them. And the function of progressives is to cover for them.

No candidate in his election offers anything close to what working people need and want. That is because this society, its pseudo-democratic elections included, in no way serves the working class. It is a capitalist society, run by and for the capitalist ruling class. By means of the presidential campaign, the ruling class is demanding popular ratification of its legitimacy. The facts are plain. The two major presidential candidates agree almost 100 percent on all the basics.  It means mobilizing the U.S. population for the sacrifices required. to  policies that will lead to both cuts in social spending at home and increases in U.S. military manpower abroad. The problems American working people face will not be solved by this election, by the capitalists or within the capitalist system. The only alternative is socialist revolution. The “lesser” evil is an enemy who defends this system of worsening horrors. 

If the policy is “Anybody but Trump,” before you know it, you’ll be calculating how to win over swing voters; then you’ll worry that mass protests should wait for a better time. That’s how the moderates and centrists leaders and party bureaucrats figure—stay calm, make sure “our” side wins in November. If you want the Democrats to win at all costs, then you had damned well do all you can to keep struggle out of the picture. The Democratic Party is a death-trap for the struggles of the exploited and oppressed. It has eliminated the fundamental principle of socialism, that the independent working class must re-create its own revolutionary party and put an end to class collaboration. A genuine socialist party would tell the truth about the system. Anyone who rightly hates Trump should be equally sick of the Democrats. What is the difference from the vainglorious claptrap of Trump and the parsimonious sermons of BidenThere is none. Come November, who will get your vote? Coke or Pepsi? 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Volkswagen and the Brasilian Dictators

 Volkswagen says it will pay $6.4m (£5m) in compensation to former workers at a Brazilian factory who sued the company for collaborating with the country's military during the 1964-1985 dictatorship.  400 people were killed and around 40,000 people were tortured during Brazil's dictatorship.

 VW agents gave employees' names to police hunting for people described as "subversives". They were then detained and tortured. Others were sacked and placed on blacklists. Many were unable to find work for years afterwards.

 Company security agents monitored employees and informed military authorities when illegal left-wing flyers and newspapers were found.

"The management of VW do Brasil exhibited unreserved loyalty towards the military government," Christopher Kopper, a history professor at Germany's Bielefeld University, found.
"I was at work when two people with machine guns came up to me," Mr Bellentani, an activist, said. "They held my arms behind my back and immediately put me in handcuffs. As soon as we arrived in Volkswagen's security centre, the torture began. I was beaten, punched and slapped."

Australia's Banksters

 Australia's Westpac bank has negotiated to pay a record A$1.3bn (£0.7bn; $0.9bn) fine for the nation's biggest breach of money laundering laws.

Last year, Australia's financial crime watchdog said the bank had failed to adequately report over 19 million international transactions.  It will be the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history.

Some payments were potentially linked to child exploitation, officials said. Concerns about child exploitation came after the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac)  identified payments made to suspected operators in the Phillipines. Australian media has since linked the bank to individual cases, including an alleged paedophile's suspected use of Westpac's transfer system to pay for child sex overseas.
In Australia, Westpac's competitor Commonwealth Bank paid an A$700m fine for similar breaches in 2018 involving 53,000 suspect transactions. The nation's banking sector was last year also the subject of a royal commission - Australia's highest form of public inquiry - that exposed widespread wrongdoing in the industry.

China's Mega-rich

 The richest person is China is a bottled water tycoon, Zhong Shanshan who founded Nongfu Spring in 1996 in the Zhejiang province on China's Eastern coast, knocking Alibaba founder Jack Ma from his mantle. Zhong's Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise controlling stake in the firm saw his overall wealth jump as much as $20bn by August.

 Shanshan is now in top spot with wealth of $58.7bn (£46.2bn).  He is also now Asia's second-richest person behind India's Mukesh Ambani, the billionaire behind Reliance Industries.  He ranks 17th overall on its list of the world's top 500 richest people.

New Audio Talks Uploaded

How they solved the homeless problem (for a while) pt.1

How they solved the homeless problem (for a while) pt.2

How they solved the homeless problem (for a while) pt.3

FAQ Food and politics

FAQ Fetishing the word socialism pt.1

FAQ Fetishing the word socialism pt.2

FAQ Would there be laws

Who was J Posadas pt.1

Who was J Posadas pt.2

Dangerous Women - Marge Piercy

FAQ What we think of charities

The Palm Oil Industry

 An Associated Press investigation found  in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia – an invisible workforce consisting of millions of laborers from some of the poorest corners of Asia, many of them enduring various forms of exploitation, with the most serious abuses including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape. Together, the two countries produce about 85 percent of the world’s estimated $65 billion palm oil supply  which its way into the supply chains of the planet’s most iconic food and cosmetics companies like Unilever, L’Oreal, Nestle and Procter & Gamble.

Palm oil is virtually impossible to avoid. Often disguised on labels as an ingredient listed by more than 200 names, it can be found in roughly half the products on supermarket shelves and in most cosmetic brands. It’s in paints, plywood, pesticides and pills. It’s also present in animal feed, biofuels and even hand sanitizer. A half-century ago, palm oil was just another commodity that thrived in the tropics. Many Western countries relied on their own crops like soybean and corn for cooking, until major retailers discovered the cheap oil from Southeast Asia had almost magical qualities. It had a long shelf life, remained nearly solid at room temperature and didn’t smoke up kitchens, even when used for deep-frying. When researchers started warning that trans fats like those found in margarine posed serious health risks, demand for palm oil soared even higher. Just about every part of the fruit is used in manufacturing, from the outer flesh to the inner kernel, and the versatility of the oil itself and its derivatives seem endless. It helps keep oily substances from separating and turns instant noodles into steaming cups of soup, just by adding hot water. It’s used in baby formula, non-dairy creamers and supplements and is listed on the labels of everything from Jif Natural peanut butter to Kit-Kat candy bars. Often hidden amid a list of scientific names on labels, it’s equally useful in a host of cleansers and makeup products. It bubbles in shampoo, foams in Colgate toothpaste, moisturizes Dove soap and helps keep lipstick from melting. But the convenience comes with a cost: For workers, harvesting the fruit can be brutal.

Crops like rapeseed, sesame and corn require a lot more land while producing far less oil. Malaysia and Indonesia started ramping up commercial production in the 1960s and ’70s, supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which saw palm oil as an engine for economic growth in the developing world. Today, following advances in transportation and capabilities in refining, the two countries have a near-monopoly on the global supply, even as production expands across Africa and Latin America, where a litany of labor abuses also have been reported. China and India have become major customers, and the crop now is being eyed as a potential energy source for power plants, ships and airplanes, which would create even more demand.

“If the whole Western world would stop using palm oil, I don’t think that would make any difference,” said Gerrit van Duijn, a former refineries manager at Unilever, one of the world’s largest palm oil buyers for food and personal care products. The trees take only three or four years to mature and then bear fruit year-round for up to three decades. But most companies can’t maintain the pace of expansion without outside funding. Every 10,000 acres of new planting requires up to $50 million, van Duijn estimates.

AP interviewed  current and former workers from two dozen palm oil companies who came from eight countries and labored on plantations across wide swaths of Malaysia and Indonesia. Almost all had complaints about their treatment, with some saying they were cheated, threatened, held against their will or forced to work off unsurmountable debts. Others said they were regularly harassed by authorities, swept up in raids and detained in government facilities.

They included members of Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya minority, who fled ethnic cleansing in their homeland only to be sold into the palm oil industry. Fishermen who escaped years of slavery on boats also described coming ashore in search of help, but instead ending up being trafficked onto plantations -- sometimes with police involvement.

Though labor issues have largely been ignored, the punishing effects of palm oil on the environment have been decried for years. Still, giant Western financial institutions like Deutsche Bank, BNY Mellon, Citigroup, HSBC and the Vanguard Group have continued to help fuel a crop that has exploded globally, soaring from just 5 million tons in 1999 to 72 million today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. alone has seen a 900 percent spike in demand during that same time.

Sometimes they invest directly but, increasingly, third parties are used like Malaysia-based Maybank, one of the world’s biggest palm oil financiers, which not only provides capital to growers but, in some cases, processes the plantations’ payrolls. Financial crimes experts say that in an industry rife with a history of problems, banks should flag arbitrary and inconsistent wage deductions as potential indicators of forced labor. 

“This has been the industry’s hidden secret for decades,” said Gemma Tillack of the U.S.-based Rainforest Action Network, which has exposed labor abuses on palm oil plantations. “The buck stops with the banks. It is their funding that makes this system of exploitation possible.”

 As global demand for palm oil surges, plantations are struggling to find enough laborers, frequently relying on brokers who prey on the most at-risk people. Many foreign workers end up fleeced by a syndicate of recruiters and corrupt officials and often are unable to speak the local language, rendering them especially susceptible to trafficking and other abuses. They sometimes pay up to $5,000 just to get their jobs, an amount that could take years to earn in their home countries, often showing up for work already crushed by debt. Many have their passports seized by company officials to keep them from running away, which the United Nations recognizes as a potential flag of forced labor. Countless others remain off the books and are especially scared of speaking out. They include migrants working without documentation and children who AP reporters witnessed squatting in the fields like crabs, picking up loose fruit alongside their parents. Many women also work for free or on a day-to-day basis, earning the equivalent of as little as $2 a day, sometimes for decades.

The uneven jungle terrain is rough and sometimes flooded. The palms themselves serve as a wind barrier, creating sauna-like conditions, and harvesters need incredible strength to hoist long poles with sickles into the towering trees. Each day, they must balance the tool while carefully slicing down spiky fruit bunches heavy enough to maim or kill, tending hundreds of trees over expanses that can stretch beyond 10 football fields. Those who fail to meet impossibly high quotas can see their wages reduced, sometimes forcing entire families into the fields to make the daily number.

“I work as a helper with my husband to pick up loose fruit. I do not get paid,” said Yuliana, who labors on a plantation owned by London Sumatra, which has a history of labor issues and is owned by one of the world’s largest instant-noodle makers.

Female workers from other companies who said they were sexually harassed and even raped in the fields, including some minors. Workers also complained about a lack of access to medical care or clean water, sometimes collecting rain runoff to wash the residue from their bodies after spraying dangerous pesticides or scattering fertilizer.

While previous media reports have mostly focused on a single company or plantation, the AP investigation is the most comprehensive dive into labor abuses industrywide. It found widespread problems on plantations big and small, including some that meet certification standards set by the global Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an association that promotes ethical production -- including the treatment of workers -- and whose members include growers, buyers, traders and environmental watchdogs. Some of the same companies that display the RSPO’s green palm logo signifying its seal of approval are accused of continuing to grab land from indigenous people and destroying virgin rainforests that are home to orangutans and other critically endangered species. They contribute to climate change by cutting down trees, draining carbon-rich peatlands and using illegal slash-and-burn clearing that routinely blankets parts of Southeast Asia in a thick haze. 

While some companies, such as Ikea, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever, directly confirmed the use of palm oil or its derivatives in their products, others refused to say or provided minimal information, sometimes even when “palm oil” was clearly listed on labels. Others said it was difficult to know if their products contained the ingredient because, in items such as cosmetics and cleaning supplies, some names listed on labels could instead be derived from coconut oil or a synthetic form.

“I understand why companies are struggling because palm oil has such a bad reputation,” said said Didier Bergeret, director of social sustainability at the Consumer Goods Forum, a global industry group. “Even if it’s sustainable, they don’t feel like talking about it whatsoever.” 

Malaysia and Indonesia have long touted the golden crop as vital to alleviating poverty, saying small-time farmers are able to grow their own palm oil and large industrial estates provide much-needed jobs to workers from poor areas. 

Soes Hindharno, spokesman for the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, told the AP that many Indonesian workers who cross over to Malaysia illegally to work on plantations “are easily intimidated, their wages are cut or they are threatened with reporting and deportation.” Some have their passports seized by their employers, he said. 

The workers AP interviewed came from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Cambodia, along with Myanmar, which represents the newest army of exploited laborers. Among the latter are stateless Rohingya Muslims. Decades of oppression and outbreaks of violence have sent nearly a million Rohingya fleeing Myanmar in the last five years. Sayed was among those who escaped by boat -- only to be held hostage, he said, and tortured by human traffickers in a jungle camp in Thailand. After his relatives paid a ransom, Sayed said he was sent to Muslim-majority Malaysia, where thousands of Rohingya have sought refuge. He heard about a job paying workers without permits the equivalent of $14 a day, so he jumped into the back of a truck with eight other men and watched for hours as the busy highways narrowed to a dirt mountain track surrounded by an endless green carpet of palm oil trees. Once on the plantation, Sayed said he lived in an isolated lean-to, dependent on his boss to bring what little rice and dried fish he was given to eat. He said he escaped after working a month and was later arrested, spending a year and a half in an immigration detention center, where guards beat him.

“There is no justice,” he said. “People here say, ‘This is not your country, we will do whatever we want.’”

Rights groups confirmed being double-trafficked is not uncommon, especially five to 10 years ago, when recruiters and human traffickers would wait along the coast for runaway fishermen. Last year in Malaysia, another Cambodian man who said he spent five years enslaved at sea and four more on plantations was among those who surfaced. Instead of being repatriated as a victim of human trafficking, rights groups said he was jailed for months for being in the country illegally. 

“We gave our sweat and blood for palm oil,” Ko Htwe said. “We were forced to work and were abused.” When Americans and Europeans see palm oil is listed as an ingredient in their snacks, he said, they should know “it’s the same as consuming our sweat and blood.” 

Asian banks are by far the most robust financiers of the plantations, but Western lenders and investment companies have poured almost $12 billion into palm oil plantations in the last five years alone, allowing for the razing and replanting of ever-expanding tracts of land, according to Forest and Finance, a database run by six nonprofit organizations that track money flowing to palm oil companies. The U.S institutions BNY Mellon, Charles Schwab Corp., Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Citigroup Inc., along with Europe’s HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Prudential, together account for $3.5 billion of that, according to the data. Other contributors include U.S. state pensions and teachers’ unions, including CalPERS, California’s massive public employees fund, and insurance companies such as State Farm, meaning that even conscientious consumers many unwittingly be supporting the industry just by visiting ATMs, mortgaging homes, insuring cars or investing in 401K retirement accounts. Bank of America, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, CalPERS and State Farm responded by noting their policies vowing to support sustainability practices in the palm oil industry, with many also incorporating human rights into their guidelines. JPMorgan Chase declined comment, and BNY Mellon, Citigroup and Prudential did not respond. Charles Schwab called its investment “small.” Malaysia’s biggest bank, Malayan Banking Berhad. More commonly known as Maybank, it has provided almost $4 billion in financing to Southeast Asia’s palm oil industry between 2015 and 2020, or about 10 percent of all loans and underwriting services, according to Forests and Finance. Maybank has some of the loosest social and environmental assessment policies in the industry, its shareholders include institutions such as the Vanguard Group, BlackRock and State Street Corp. 

The biggest gains for banks affiliated with palm oil come from big-ticket financial services, such as corporate loans. But some of the same institutions also offer banking services for workers, handling payrolls and installing ATM machines inside plantations.

“And this is where banks, such as Maybank, may find themselves at the heart of a forced-labor problem,” said Duncan Jepson, managing director of the global anti-trafficking nonprofit group Liberty Shared. “Financial institutions have ethical and contractual obligations to all their clients, as set out in the customer charters. In this case, that means both the palm oil company and its workers.” Jepson said abnormal paycheck deductions are commonplace industry-wide, which should trigger investigations by the banks’ risk management teams into possible money-laundering. 

FGV Holdings, which employs nearly 30,000 foreign workers and manages about 1 million acres, has a 50/50 joint-venture with American consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble Company. FGV Holdings has been under fire for labor abuses and was sanctioned by the RSPO certification group two years ago. The U.S. State Department has long linked the palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia to exploitation and trafficking. And a 2018 report released by the Consumer Goods Forum found indicators of forced labor on estates in both countries -- essentially putting the network’s 400 CEOs on alert. Its members include palm oil customers like Nestle, General Mills Inc., PepsiCo Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company and Johnson & Johnson.