They add that indigenous people are being pushed off their ancestral land to make way for plantations staffed by tens of thousands of migrant workers, who are often denied health care and education services. Many families that have labored for decades still do not have the legal documents that would grant them and their children basic rights.
The laborers and their children “are invisible; they have no future. They just work and work and work,” said Alison Neri, the director of a social welfare organization that assists Indonesian migrants in eastern Malaysia.
The toll is most acutely felt in Borneo, the Southeast Asian island shared by the two countries that’s home to one of the oldest rain forests on Earth and humankind’s closest relative, the orangutan.
According to a new study, oil palm plantations over the past two decades have cleared about 6,200 square miles of primary and logged forested lands. Palm oil deforestation and hunting have combined to cut Bornean orangutan populations down to 54,000, half the total of the 1980s, according to environmental groups. At this rate, some predict the iconic animal could be extinct within a matter of years.