AN Opposition lawmaker has urged Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan to take the allegations of forced labour against Sime Darby Plantations Bhd (SDP) more seriously.
Sungai Buloh MP Sivarasa Rasiah said this in response to Saravanan who told the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday (March 8, 2022) that the US’ ban on Sime Darby’s palm oil imports was not due to forced labour but a failure to report accidents involving its migrant workforce.
Saravanan has also said that the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ban was likely based on the government-linked firm’s failure to report accidents to the Labour Department within the required ten days which is a violation of Section 13(2) of the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952.
“The CBP would not have banned Sime Darby’s palm oil products from entering the US if it was merely the failure to report accidents,” Sivarasa pointed out in a statement last night.
“This surely is a feeble excuse as this is not the first Malaysian company to be embroiled in such unsavoury labour practices.
“The CBP claimed the body has enough and reasonable evidence on Sime Darby’s forced labour practices; this is why they resorted to a serious action like a ban on Sime Darby’s palm oil exports.
“The CBP also claimed that Sime Darby specifically violated labour practices. The minister should take this much more seriously and go through the CBP evidence.”
According to Sivarasa, it is obvious to all that the CBP will not issue such a ban on Sime Darby’s palm oil exports with merely a simple failure to report an accident involving a migrant worker.
On the topic of forced labour indicators, Saravanan was also reported to have told Parliament that the CBP and the ministry viewed forced labour indicators differently.
“For example, the employers of Indonesian workers at oil palm plantations in Sabah and Sarawak do not provide daycare for their children. So, the children would just follow their parents to the plantations,” he was quoted as saying by FMT.
“These children do not work in these plantations but, at the international level, this is seen as child labour.”
In response to Saravanan’s statement Sivarasa pointed out that this does not mean Malaysia’s “low standards” are acceptable and that every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect even if they work in a “dirty, dangerous and difficult” sector.
Malaysia’s failure to comply with other countries’ standards would make it difficult for Malaysian companies to do business with overseas markets, and in dealing with potential investors and traders, he added.
“It would be sad if the world’s largest palm oil plantation company, something that we Malaysians are proud of, is now labelled as one of the biggest culprits in forced labour,” Sivarasa commented.
“I urge the Malaysian Government to take this matter seriously and rectify this global issue immediately to protect Sime Darby’s interests and the workers’ interests.
“If left unchecked, more Malaysian companies may not be able to do business internationally and we may be shunned by potential investors and traders.
“Bearing in mind this current economic situation, the Malaysian Government should immediately set up a task force under Parliament to look into these allegations of forced labour practices and table the findings to the Dewan Rakyat immediately.”
The CBP had banned imports of palm oil from SDP since 2020 over allegations of forced labour during production – a move that was seen as another blow to an industry facing mounting allegations of labour and human rights abuses.
The CBP said it had issued a ‘withhold release order’ on Sime Darby, which will allow it to detain shipments based on suspicion of forced labour involvement under longstanding US laws aimed at combating human rights abuses.
In response, Sime Darby said that it has appointed an independent consultancy to audit its facilities which it said would demonstrate it has sufficient controls in place to ensure the wellbeing of the employees. – March 11, 2022
Main photo credit: Mole.my