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Addressing Human Rights Challenges in Recovered Fiber Supply Chain in Indonesia
Addressing Human Rights Challenges in Recovered Fiber Supply Chain in Indonesia
News Nov 29, 2023

Addressing Human Rights Challenges in Recovered Fiber Supply Chain in Indonesia

Have you ever wondered what your favourite cereal or milk packaging is made of? Is it recycled? Where does it come from? When you walk down the aisles of supermarkets, the abundance of choices available to consumers can sometimes be daunting, but it's not always about the obvious choices.

Nearly two million people work as waste pickers or "pemulung" as they are known in Indonesia, collecting and recycling plastics, metals and cardboard. They live in poor conditions and have an average monthly income of 91.7 US dollars, according to ISWA, International Solid Waste Association.

Recycled paper raw material

“The price of (recycled) paper has dropped. Only 500 to 700 Rupiah [around 3 to 4.5 cent USD]. It usually can reach 1,300 Rupiah [around 8 cent USD] per kilogram. It has dropped significantly," says Bagong Suyoto, Chairman of Indonesia National Waste Coalition.

The lack of transparency and ethical practices in supply chains when it comes to waste management and recycling, complicates efforts to ensure fair treatment and working conditions for these workers and makes them vulnerable to exploitation.

Nestlé, the world's largest food and beverage company is stepping up its efforts to embrace sustainable packaging. The vision is that none of their packaging ends up in landfill or as litter.

At the end of 2023, 83.5% of Nestlé's packaging globally was designed for recycling reflecting their dedication to sustainable practices.

A close look at Indonesia's recycled paper supply chain reveals a complex reality about respecting human rights given the informal nature of this supply chain.

Earthworm Foundation's analysis indicates persistent human rights issues, including income, safety and health at work, and child labour and access to education in the informal waste management sector in Indonesia.

Various studies indicated that the daily quest for waste for these workers comes at a cost: health risks such as skin diseases, diarrhoea, and respiratory problems threaten their daily lives. Female scavengers, often accompanied by their children, face additional challenges, contributing to a chain of child labour that demands urgent attention.

Earthworm Foundation working together with Nestlé, is taking a proactive approach to identifying best practices and solutions for human rights and wellbeing in recycled paper supply chains. The key idea is to encourage collaboration, transcend individual efforts and involve government agencies, private companies, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), consumers and buyers.

A multistakeholder workshop, supported by Nestlé and organised by Earthworm Foundation took place in Jakarta on January 17, 2024 and brought together 30 representatives from diverse industries to share concerns and best practices.

A group consisting of various stakeholders discussed how to create an integrated waste management system in a forum facilitated by Earthworm Foundation

Maria Clara Bastiani from JARAK an organisation combating child labour in Indonesia, highlighted initiatives to inspire children living in landfills to pursue education, collaborating with universities for support.

“We collaborated with the universities. We invited the children and the family to visit the campus with the hope of inspiring them so they would know how It feels to be a university student. It is to keep their dreams alive to continue and pursue their education. The university students also help to support them mentally and with other programs conducted at the landfills.”

Tundjung Rijanto, Coordinator Women and Child Working Norms Substance from the Ministry of Manpower, highlighted the lessons learned from the forum, stressing the importance of linking the supply chain to the recycling industry in order to protect waste pickers.

“We appreciate this forum, it opened our mind, to connect the supply chain with the recycling industry. This is a new thing for us, new knowledge. We realized that waste pickers who are on the frontline of this recycling supply chain must be protected, in terms of health and safety. Moreover, also for the standard fee or rate if we could and the clear work status,” he said.

The collaboration and commitment of all stakeholders are key to protecting the well-being and livelihoods of millions of people who earn their living by collecting waste, as Nofri Iswandi, Project Manager from Earthworm Foundation explains.

A presentation by forum participants to share ideas and results of group discussion on the action plan towards improving recovered fibre supply chains

“Waste pickers are not tied to only one collector; they are free to sell it to anyone they would like. The collector also is not tied to only one paper mill but is connected to many paper mills. It means that collaboration from the government, paper mills, brand, converter of corrugated paper, up to the individual level of waste pickers must be united in the oneness of collaboration to resolve this issue.”

While acknowledging the progress made, there is still a long way to go, collaboration and commitment from all stakeholders remain imperative. Nestlé’s in Indonesia, Maruli Sitompul, the Sustainability Manager emphasises the collective effort required from the companies involved to make a greater effort.

To accelerate this effort, Nestlé is taking the lead in bringing together multiple stakeholders, including businesses, brands, suppliers, government, NGOs, and associations, to address the challenges we face in this sector. In the next stages, we encourage more businesses, both brands and suppliers, to join forces and work collectively to find the best solutions to address the challenges across the value chain.”

To strengthen efforts to improve human and labour rights in the recycled waste paper supply chain, Earthworm Foundation plans to build on opportunities for collaboration within the private, public and government sectors and stakeholders who attended the workshop”. “Aisyah Syafei, the Educator Associate from the Directorate of Waste Reduction of the ministry echoed the follow-up plans.

“Inputs from the workshop participants is a good initial step for us, for our activities to assist the informal sector. It is also related to the circular economy that we are currently promoting, to involve the informal sector and recycling industries.”

Furthermore, to enable collaboration and multistakeholder participation, Earthworm plans to set up a working group bringing together relevant government agencies, paper mills, paper packaging end-users (buyers), civil society organisations and academics.

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