A general view of the Sime Darby Plantation headquarters in Petaling Jaya October 2, 2019. — Reuters pic
A general view of the Sime Darby Plantation headquarters in Petaling Jaya October 2, 2019. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — A Hong Kong-based anti-trafficking NGO called Liberty Shared has petitioned against Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby Plantation Bhd due to alleged child and forced labour.

In the petition filed with the US Customs and Border Protection agency in April and reported by news agency AP yesterday, the group urged a ban on imports of the firm’s palm oil products.

The petition’s summary said workers and civil society it interviewed revealed complaints of arbitrary penalties, threats of and actual sexual harassment, physical threats and abuse, various and inconsistent deductions in pay, varying conditions of accommodation, and fees charged for basic facilities.

The report also pointed at mistreatment of foreign workers, and unlawful practices by recruitment agents.

“Foreign workers may be recruited formally through the government mechanism but many are recruited by independent private commercial operations that specialise in identifying, contracting, transporting and placing foreign workers on plantations,” it said.

It said a number of workers interviewed claimed they had been deceived into believing they would be working in factories and that the salary level would be higher than that which they actually receive.

“No worker interviewed said they received minimum wages once deductions were taken into account, and some said they were unable to determine the wage,” said the report.

The group said its conclusions were among others based on interviews with workers and members of civil society, and scrutiny of public disclosures and audit reports.

On its website, Liberty Shared described itself as aiming to prevent human trafficking through legal advocacy, technological interventions, and strategic collaborations with NGOs, corporations, and financial institutions globally.

Malaysia is the world’s second largest producer of palm oil, the most consumed edible oil, with Sime Darby Plantations one of the largest in the industry here with a history stretching back to the 1800s.

Malay Mail has contacted Sime Darby Plantation and its parent company Sime Darby Group Bhd for comment.

Last year, two petitions were filed against another Malaysian palm oil giant, FGV Holdings Bhd ,claiming child and forced labour, by the Grant & Eisenhofer ESG Institute, and International Labor Rights Forum, Rainforest Action Network and SumOfUs.

The US is one of the largest importers of Malaysian palm oil products. In 2019, exports of Malaysian palm oil products to the US were worth RM3.1 billion (1.1 million tonnes).

The American Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits entry of goods that arrive at US ports if there is reason to believe they contain materials made with forced labor.

Malaysia already faces a possible European Union ban on palm oil, allegedly due to environmental concerns, which it was planning to challenge in court.

Last year, then Minister of Primary Industries Teresa Kok urged palm oil industry players and relevant associations to intensify good labour practices and organise awareness programmes on forced and child labour.