KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia does not condone any act of forced labour and child labour in oil palm plantations as alleged by the reports of the United States Department of Labour (DoL).
In the past five reports in the US DoL’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labour or Forced Labour for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, Malaysia has been listed as one of the countries practising forced labour in the oil palm industry.
In its latest report on Dec 1, the US DoL has again listed Malaysia as one of the countries practising not only forced labour but also child labour in the said industry.
In a statement released yesterday, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry (MPIC) said Malaysia, as a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), adheres to the ILO’s Convention No 29 concerning forced labour and Convention No 182 concerning child labour.
In this respect, Article 6 of the Federal Constitution stipulates that no person shall be held in slavery and that forced labour is prohibited. Malaysia has also enacted the Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966 to provide regulations to protect children and young persons who are engaged in employment in terms of working hours, type of work and others.
According to the MPIC, the palm oil industry is one of the most highly regulated industries in Malaysia.
Currently, the local palm oil industry subscribes to more than 60 laws and regulations, which include criteria on labour practices.
The palm oil industry recognises the importance of workers and has taken great efforts to ensure that the welfare of the workers is taken care of.
It pointed out that the MPIC has undertaken a six-month preliminary survey on the labour situation in Malaysian oil palm plantations that was completed in June.
The study, which was based on the ILO Guideline (Hard to See, Harder to Count) covered workers, employers and labour contractors.
The survey was carried out in 68 oil palm plantations and smallholdings in Selangor, Perak, Johor, Pahang, Sabah and Sarawak and covered 1,632 workers.
The interviews were conducted without the presence of the employers.
The findings showed that:
> Cases of employers withholding passports of foreign workers were minimal, ie, 0.4% of the total respondents covered;
> There was no systematic condition of forced labour in Malaysian oil palm plantations and smallholdings;
> In the case of Sabah, the study showed that children of foreign workers accompanied their parents to the work area due to a lack of supervision at home and assisted in simple tasks such as loose fruit collection. However, this is only allowed after school hours, weekends and holidays; and There is an active labour market in oil palm plantations and foreign workers can find alternative work.
> The MPIC will coordinate the outcome of this study with the relevant ministries and agencies to strengthen labour laws and regulations in the oil palm plantations.
Hence, in support of sustainable development of the palm oil industry, Malaysia will be implementing the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme beginning January 2015.
Under the MSPO, the criteria for certification include compliance to labour laws and regulations, health, safety and employment conditions.