Project information

Start date: Baseline assessment January 2022 – June 2022, project start June 2022

End date: March 2025

Location: Kailahun district, Eastern Sierra Leone


The Challenge

Child labour is still common in developing countries. Subsistence farmers often rely on children to assist in agricultural tasks. This becomes a problem when the work is dangerous or puts children in harm’s way, is physically demanding, or denies children their rights to attend school or have free time for play. The underlying causes of child labour are frequently related to poverty, poor regulation and lack of awareness of the potential harm, as is the case in Sierra Leone.

The project is a collaboration with Planting Naturals, a Netherlands sustainable palm oil company, their subsidiary in Sierra Leone, Goldtree, and MAPCO (who are our regular project partners). Planting Naturals and Goldtree produce palm oil using more sustainable production methods to avoid harming the environment, and they have identified that despite their best efforts, children are still working on the smallholder farms who supply fruit to Goldtree’s mill.

We will be working in partnership with MAPCO and Planting Naturals/Goldtree to eliminate child labour from the supply chain. While Goldtree have taken steps to eradicate child labour on company plantations, many child workers carry very heavy loads, use dangerous tools such as machetes on the smallholder’s farms. These types of activity pose the threat of physical harm to children. Children who are working are denied the opportunity of attending school or taking time to study, limiting their potential and jeopardizing their futures. Many farmers use their children to supplement labour on the farm to save costs and by doing so they deprive them of their right to education and a right to free time. At the same time, in some rural areas children simply do not have access to proper education facilities even when their parents want to send them to school.

Our project

Action on Poverty works to eradicate child labour through programmes which build an understanding of child rights, nutrition and health needs and which alleviate poverty through improved incomes and livelihoods development.

Planting Naturals are committed to eliminating harmful child labour used on the family small holdings which are producing fresh fruit bunches for sale to their subsidiary Goldtree.

Action on Poverty and MAPCO will run advocacy and capacity building with the Palm Oil smallholding farming communities and with government officials.  The activities will not benefit Goldtree financially, but are designed to build the livelihoods and maximise incomes of smallholder farmers who sell their products to Goldtree while reducing the incidences of Child Labour.

In the first stage of the project, we will work with MAPCO and Goldtree to investigate the extent and severity of child labour in a sample of small holder farms, in over 50 villages of two Chiefdoms of Kailahun District, to better understand the extent of child labour, the underlying causes of and attitudes to children’s engagement in the sector.

We’ll take our findings from this to refine the next stage of the project which will reduce the occurrence of harmful child labour. This is likely to include sharing awareness on the harm of child labour, promoting and providing skills training for alternative sources of income , and increased production of food.

The project will benefit up to 2000 farming families in the two Chiefdoms of Kailahun, and also has the potential to impact thousands more through wider impacts in Planting Naturals supplier small holders in Sierra Leone.

Working with partners in the Palm Oil sector

At Action on Poverty, our priority is helping people to build a safe and lasting living, and we have always been bold and brave in our approach. We pursue what we know to be right and what we know to be effective, and we choose our partners carefully. We are open to working with businesses committed to improving their approach and finding real solutions to child labour, so when the opportunity arose to help hundreds of children live safer lives, pursue their education and fulfil their potential, we made the considered choice to partner with Planting Naturals to achieve this.

We recognise that the production of Palm Oil can come at the cost of biodiversity loss and deforestation that may exacerbate climate change. Palm Oil remains one of the most useful and productive vegetable oils grown, and its global demand and production has increased rapidly over the past 50 years. Creating large-scale oil palm plantations can also lead to social conflict between companies, governments and communities over land tenure and usage rights. Labour and human rights abuses including forced and child labour can occur on plantations.

As awareness of the negative impacts of Palm Oil grows, government and organisations are not calling for a total boycott but are calling for the use of Palm Oil from suppliers with sustainability certification, and increased crop yields. The most well-known certification is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which only 19% of global Palm Oil production is currently covered by. The RSPO was launched in 2004 and provides certification for suppliers who produce their crop in a more sustainable way by conducting impact assessments, managing high-value areas of biodiversity, not clearing primary forest and avoiding land clearance through fires. Suppliers can only be certified if their plantations have not replaced primary forest or areas rich in biodiversity since 2005.

Planting Naturals and Goldtree trade organic and sustainable certified palm oil produced in Sierra Leone, working with a network of smallholder farmers who grow and harvest the fruits before they are transported to the company-owned Goldtree Mill for processing. Planting Naturals adheres to EU Organic regulation and RSPO ISH standard and has strict policies prohibiting child labour. Goldtree does lease land for plantations from local farmers which can be of financial detriment to the farmers and can harm biodiversity. However, Goldtree have a stringent Land Use policy in place which is certified by RSPO.

Our project does not aim to increase the profits of our partners Planting Naturals or Goldtree; its focus is on giving children the best possible start during their childhood to fulfil their potential and eradicate child labour by working with partners that will enable us to benefit up to 2000 farming families.