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AP wins 2 RFK Journalism Awards

, by Patrick Maks

An investigation exposing widespread abuse in the palm oil industry and searing photos of Ethiopians fleeing war earned The Associated Press two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards on Thursday.

AP investigative reporters Margie Mason and Robin McDowell won the RFK Journalism Award for international print for a series of stories that uncovered the exploitation of an invisible workforce of millions of men, women and children from some of the poorest corners of Asia.

A child carries palm kernels collected from the ground across a creek at a palm oil plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia, Nov. 13, 2017. Child labor has long been a dark stain on the $65 billion global palm oil industry. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

AP used U.S. Customs records and data to trace the oil harvested by workers to major brands such as Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg’s and PepsiCo, prompting the U.S. government to ban shipments from two major Malaysian palm oil producers.

The judges said:

The AP team’s investigation into the poor men and women workers harvesting palm oil is heartbreaking. And the team’s reporting of child labor abuses and assault on young children working in the fields stands apart for all the earlier coverage for its painstaking detail in reporting, through interview after interview that paints a horrifying portrait of what’s wrong with this industry and lays it out for the world to see.

The investigation has also won the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics, the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, an Overseas Press Club award, an Investigative Reporters and Editors award and the Worth Bingham Prize.

Cairo-based photographer Nariman El-Mofty earned the RFK Journalism Award for international photography for gripping images of Ethiopians fleeing war following months of tensions between Ethiopia’s government and its Tigray region.

El-Mofty’s images illustrate the experience of thousands of Ethiopians seeking refuge in Sudan, taking with them donkeys, beds, motorcycles and colorful cloths to drape over pipes to create shelters.

Refugees who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region ride a bus going to the Village 8 temporary shelter near the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan, Dec. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

The photos show how some left their shoes behind as they crossed a river to safety, while others walked for days to reach the border before being packed into buses or trucks for long journeys to refugee camps.

The judges said:

When tens of thousands of Ethiopians were forced by war to flee to refugee camps in Sudan, Nariman El-Mofty navigated tremendous logistical challenges to travel to the remote border area. She created a body of work that not only brings attention to an underreported story, but captures the commonality of the human experience in the midst of tremendous upheaval. With the eye of a painter, El-Mofty documents the dignity of mothers forced from their homes, the joy of children playing in the dirt of a temporary refuge, and the grief of injury and lives lost. Her work reflects not the reality of an interloper but the intimacy of trust gained.

A full list of this year’s RFK Journalism Award winners can be found here.