KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP) said today it will reach out to anti-trafficking group Liberty Shared, following the latter’s petition with Washington alleging child and forced labour practices involving the local firm.
In an immediate response, the palm oil giant said it is concerned over the serious allegations made by the Hong Kong-based group that were submitted to the United States (US) Customs and Border Protection agency.
“These are serious allegations that are against the commitments that we have publicly made, as articulated in our Responsible Agriculture Charter and our Human Rights Charter,” it said in a statement in response to the report.
“We believe over the years we have made genuine progress in improving our labour practices on the ground through various initiatives and collaborations with multiple partners and NGOs.
“Our efforts can be seen in various disclosures that we have made public, which includes our latest Sustainability Report 2019, published in May 2020,” it added.
The firm also admitted to the challenges and complexity of the supply chains across the industry, but said it was committed to the No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation (NDPE) approach.
“We are truly committed to eradicating instances of non-compliance by imposing immediate and appropriate corrective actions if and when they arise,” it said.
Sime Darby also pointed out that the petition was submitted without its input, and no details of the allegations were given.
“In the spirit of openness, transparency and collaboration that SDP has always upheld, we intend to engage with Liberty Shared to further understand these allegations in detail to enable us to conduct a thorough and immediate investigation, and take corrective action, as the findings may warrant.
“We believe this in turn will further help strengthen our practices globally to ensure we embed the respect for Human Rights on the ground throughout our operations,” it said.
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.
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.