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McGraw Fellows Uncover Human Rights Abuses in Palm Oil Industry

  • By Newmark J-School Staff
AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe

An investigative story by two McGraw Center for Business Journalism fellows detailing extensive human and labor rights abuses on plantations that produce palm oil was published today by the AP.

The reporters, Margie Mason and Robin McDowell, were part of the AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for the series, “Seafood from Slaves.”

While there has been a lot of coverage of the environmental damage done by the massive increase in demand for palm oil — an ingredient found in roughly half of all supermarket and cosmetic products, everything from Oreo cookies and Dove soap to Colgate toothpaste — this is the first story to look closely at the human toll.

“This one has been a long time coming,” said Jane Sasseen, executive director of the McGraw Center at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “It took almost two years, due to the difficulties of ensuring the safety of both the reporters and those they spoke to, followed by pandemic delays. But it’s been worth the wait.”

Two more linked pieces are in the works that should come out later in the fall.

The McGraw Center for Business Journalism was established at the Newmark J-School in 2014 by the family of the late Harold W. McGraw, Jr., former chairman and CEO of McGraw-Hill and long-time publisher of BusinessWeek magazine. The Center is dedicated to enhancing the depth and quality of business and economic news coverage through training, student scholarships, and support for veteran journalists.