FGV sanctioned by sustainability body over alleged forced labour, trafficking

A Felda signage at the Felda headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. FGV Holdings Bhd was found to be involved with alleged forced labour, trafficking in workers, and providing dire living conditions for them, among other widespread illegal wrongdoings. ― Reuters file pic
A Felda signage at the Felda headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. FGV Holdings Bhd was found to be involved with alleged forced labour, trafficking in workers, and providing dire living conditions for them, among other widespread illegal wrongdoings. ― Reuters file pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 ― Felda-owned FGV Holdings Bhd has been sanctioned by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), following over 25 breaches of the latter’s certification criteria on the palm oil giant's plantations.

In a copy of its letter to the firm’s vice-president Raja Datuk Zamilla Mansur sighted by Malay Mail, RSPO said the firm formerly known as Felda Global Ventures was found to be involved with alleged forced labour, trafficking in workers, and providing dire living conditions for them, among other widespread illegal wrongdoings.

As outlined in the Complaints Panel’s (CP) decision letter, FGV had locked workers’ passports away, requiring written permission to leave the plantation, in addition to supplying them with contracts in languages they could not understand, prohibiting them from terminating contracts, and cutting down on food, water and electricity.

The findings were results from RSPO’s visits to FGV’s mills and estates between April 26 and 28 this year.

FGV was given months to address these issues.

The investigation by RSPO was sparked by a Wall Street Journal story back in 2015, which found forced labour, human trafficking, and other labour abuses on the Felda-owned plantations.

“The RSPO’s confirmation of forced labour on Felda’s plantations is a damning indictment of the company’s modern day slavery practices and its complicity in human trafficking,” Glorene Das, the executive director of rights group Tenaganita, said in a statement.

“The Malaysian government, global palm oil buyers, financiers, and the international community must hold palm oil companies to account, especially government-linked companies like Felda.

“We cannot allow these crimes to persist,” she added.

The statement also said that while global palm oil buyers are beginning to acknowledge the widespread labour violations within the industry, few global brands have taken few firm actions to address the issue.

Major consumer brands like Procter & Gamble, Hershey’s, Unilever, Mars, PepsiCo and Nestle allegedly still continue to buy palm oil from FGV, despite their own policies against sourcing from companies that commit such violations.

Fatah Sadaoui, a palm oil campaign manager for global consumer watchdog group SumOfUs, accused big brands like Procter & Gamble of profiting from FGV's “modern day slavery practices” and must be held accountable.

“To date, Procter & Gamble has failed to hold Felda accountable for forced labour on its plantations, despite over 160,000 global consumers calling for action,” Sadaoui said.

The RSPO is the world’s largest palm oil certification scheme, and this was its second decision in the past several weeks over high-profile labour complaint.

Earlier this month, RSPO had announced a similar decision to sanction major Indonesian palm oil producer Indofood, the firm was not suspended.

However, Rainforest Action Network Agribusiness campaign director Robin Averbeck claimed RSPO had failed to adequately hold its members accountable despite widespread illegal labour violations.

“The RSPO has issued a slap on the wrist to both Felda and Indofood, while allowing these companies to continue selling certified ‘sustainable’ palm oil rife with illegality and labour violations,” Averbeck said.

Malay Mail has contacted Felda and FGV for a response.

*A previous version of this story contained an error which has since been corrected. 

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