Captives in Indonesia

Written by: Simone S.

Families in Indonesia thought they were sending their sons to a rehab facility run by a powerful local official. Those who stayed there say it was a brutal human slavery operation.

North Sumatra 65 men were found locked in two cages. 6-month investigation.

They were imprisoned under the guise of a drug rehabilitation program but were actually forced to work as slaves at a palm plantation and palm oil factory owned by a powerful local official and his family.

Treatment for addiction was not offered. Elected post as regent is similar to being a leader of a county in the US. Highlights dismal record human rights record/violations – rampant corruption flourishes – political actors are often corrupt and referred to as “little kings.”

North Sumatra provincial police, during investigation, found that 656 men and teenage boys had been imprisoned on Mr. Perangin-angins’ lad during the decade before his arrest.

Victims were forced to work at factories or on plantations – alongside paid workers. Many were tortured, whipped, burned, and sexually assaulted. 6 men died, and at least three were tortured to death, according to the Indonesians National Commission on Human Rights.

An open secret, but no one intervened because the political actor was seen as a powerful force in the Langkat regency. Some police officers and soldiers helped guard or torture the men and victims.

In January, Indonesia was shocked by the gruesome discovery of a makeshift prison in the home of the suspended head of Langkat district, North Sumatra, Terbit Rencana Perangin Angin. An iron cage had been used to detain more than 40 people who were allegedly forced to work on an oil palm plantation owned by Terbit compelled to work for more than 10 hours on the district head’s plantation, without pay.

The case underlines the many connections between modern slavery and corruption. Perpetrators of modern slavery and human trafficking are often able to get away with their crimes by bribing or influencing government officials, practices often referred to in Indonesia by the broad term “judicial mafia”. This has long been the case in East Nusa Tenggara, where human trafficking remains rampant.

The palm oil sector is a major contributor to modern slavery of Indonesians, both in Indonesia and in neighbouring Malaysia.

In its 2014 report, Walk Free noted that Indonesian palm oil workers are often “trapped on plantations, and forced to live in squalor, work excessive hours, are subject to physical abuse, work for little or no pay, and have restricted movement”, much as occurred in the Langkat case.

Sadly, these abuses have a long history. In fact, the plantation industry in Indonesia has been linked to the exploitation of workers and modern slavery practices since the colonial period. The history of the Dutch East Indies throughout the 19th century is a story of the exploitation of the human and natural resources for the benefit of the colonising country, which had come close to bankruptcy following the Java War of 1825-1830.

The commission found that plantations in East Sumatra were operating like mini kingdoms. Many plantations were found to be implementing their own systems of justice. Deprivation of freedoms and physical abuse were widespread. Workers were treated differently according to their race, creating divisions and resentment. Women suffered from discrimination – they received less pay and were often denied access to reproductive rights. Some plantations reportedly even applied the death penalty (via hanging) to plantation workers considered “dangerous”.

But many of the conditions established by colonial plantation operators remain in place today. Looking at the history of exploitation and slavery on colonial plantations, and comparing it to the horrific case in Langkat, it is clear that modern slavery is deeply connected to the process of decolonisation, which remains a work in progress. The modern plantation industry continues to perpetuate many of the worst abuses of colonial rule.

As the Langkat case underscored so emphatically, modern slavery is also deeply intertwined with corruption. Unless labour exploitation, human trafficking and corruption are tackled together, the Langkat case will not be the last.

As the victims toiled in the plantation and nearby factory without pay, the palm oil it produced was flowing into the supply chains of some of the world’s most famous brands. Public disclosures from firms including Unilever and Nestlé – the manufacturers of Dove soap and KitKats respectively – show they sourced from the plantation.

Major brands bought palm oil from plantation rife with modern slavery and torture

Young Indonesian men sent to a ‘drug rehabilitation’ centre were subjected to violence and forced to work in an oil palm plantation. Two died from injuries sustained at the site, reports The Gecko Project.

eight men were sentenced to prison sentences ranging between 19 months and three years, for human trafficking and causing the deaths of two men.

The palm oil industry has been plagued by serious allegations of labour rights abuses in recent years. Almost all of the 73 million tonnes of the edible oil produced each year comes from plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, where labour is provided by migrant workers or local villagers.

A 2020 investigation by the Associated Press that examined the practices of two dozen palm oil companies found child labour, “outright slavery” and allegations of rape from female workers. In the wake of the investigation the US government banned imports from one of the world’s largest producers.

widespread violation of human rights in oil palm plantations in Indonesia.

Relying on several interviews with workers of 12 plantations on Borneo and Sumatra– two islands that hold 96 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil operations– the investigation revealed that among the estimated 3.7 million workers in Indonesia’s palm oil industry, thousands of child laborers and workers face modern-day slavery.

  1. “Exploitative Labor Practices in the Global Palm Oil Industry”, prepared by Accenture for Humanity United,
    (2) “Forced Labor and Child Labor on Palm Oil Plantations”, report of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalismat Brandeis University,!slavery-palm-oil-plantations-indonesia/cqcc


Dutch Colonies

Over centuries, the Dutch bought and shipped some 600,000 enslaved people from Africa in the trans-Atlantic slave trade — about 5% of the total — taking them to Caribbean colonies like Suriname and Curacao, as well as other European colonies across the Americas.

Enslaved Africans were also forcibly moved to Dutch colonies in the Indian Ocean, like present-day Indonesia, and enslaved Balinese or Javanese were transported to modern-day South Africa. 

In a sign of shifting times, however, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized on Monday for his country’s “slavery past.” 


The dark history of slavery in Indonesia during the Dutch colonial period

Slave trading was widely carried out during the Dutch colonial period in Indonesia. Especially in North Sumatra, human trading for plantation workers, known as coolies, was widely practiced around 150 years ago.