Sime Darby Plantation files legal action against NGO leader

REACTING to allegations of forced labour practices, Sime Darby Plantations Bhd (SDP) has filed legal proceedings against a non-governmental organisation (NGO) leader Duncan Jepson, for claiming the former had omitted pertinent details in SDP’s Sustainability Report 2019.

“We commenced legal proceedings against Jepson on March 9, in the Eastern District of Virginia, the US.

“The purpose of the legal action is to obtain important information pertaining to a complaint filed by Jepson with the Securities Commission of Malaysia (SC), where he alleged wrongful disclosures in SDP’s Sustainability Report.

“Jepson is and was at all material times, the managing director of Liberty Shared, which is a NGO,” it said, in a statement.

Earlier today, Reuters was reported saying that SC has started a probe into SDP, following Jepson’s complaints in the wake of the US ban on its imports on claims allegations of forced labour.

The watchdog did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, it confirmed last month to Reuters that it had received a complaint, while declining to disclose details of a matter under review.

In December last year, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a “withhold release order” on the company, after Liberty Shared petitioned it to ban Sime Darby products, citing evidence of labour abuse.

Touching on the matter, SDP said it was saddened by the fact that it had to take such drastic action on a NGO, while their policy had always been to engage the civil society.

“This is the first time in our 200-year history that we resorted to taking legal action against a NGO. We engage civil society organisations across the world; supportive and respectful of the important role they play in society.

“It is this relationship of mutual respect that has allowed SDP to become an industry leader, trusted by our peers, customers and important stakeholders like highly reputable NGOs,” it stated.

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Vowing full cooperation with the SC, SDP lamented that Jepson continues to withhold vital information that could have helped the very workers he had claimed to champion.

“We have, in fact, appointed PwC Singapore in October last year, on Jepson’s request, to share with us the information necessary to address the alleged issues found in our plantations.

“Subsequently, PwC Singapore appointed another individual who works closely with Jepson and Liberty Shared, again on Jepson’s own request.

“However, neither PwC Singapore nor the individual have been able to share the material information needed to address any issues that may exist in our plantations,” it said.

SDP also expressed disappointment over Jepson’s decision to withhold the information despite repeated assurances that the whistleblowers and affected parties would be protected.

“Jepson was of the view that ‘social compliance specialists will not be able to offer an honest assessment of corporate governance and internal controls’.

“However, as a responsible organisation, we have appointed a human rights body on March 1 to offer independent and expert assessments of SDP’s entire Malaysian operations.

“Rest assured that any information that will assist us to ensure our workforce enjoys safe working and living environments is welcome,” it remarked. – March 11, 2021.

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