KUALA LUMPUR: Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP), which has sternly rebuffed allegations by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on forced labour in its production process, is frustrated that there are no signs of communication about the investigation evidence in the past six months.
In an interview with BFM 89.9, Sime Darby Oils managing director Mohd Haris Mohd Arshad snubbed the allegations on forced labour in its operations, saying it is “absolutely false” as the group has robust processes and strict business conducts in place to protect workers rights.
“We have engaged CBP and Liberty Shared (LS) to ask them to share their findings so we can investigate and take appropriate action. However, over the last six months, they have given us nothing, ” he disclosed.
In April last year, Hong Kong-based anti-trafficking group LS submitted a petition to the CBP to ban Sime Darby products, citing evidence of forced and child labour.
As such, CBP banned palm oil from SDP and its subsidiaries, joint ventures and affiliated entities in Malaysia, at all US ports of entry.
Moreover, Haris noted that CBP’s earlier statement on SDP’s processes being in violation of all 11 International Labour Organisation’s forced labour indicators is very “generic” as zero details of its investigations were disclosed to the plantation group.
“If you are accused of something, you want to understand what you are accused of, with the details and specifics so we can take action.
“We have dealt with many NGOs in the past and we go through a resolution. But in this particular case, it is very difficult, as how did you (LS) then preempt such a thing?” he questioned.
The plantation group has over 37,000 employees in Malaysia.
Among the key remedial actions taken by Sime Darby were the appointments of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and a independent non-governmental organisation (NGO) to help assess its processes and identify improvement areas to better develop its productions processes.
Moving forward, Haris expects the impact of the US ban to be “minuscular” as its sales to customers in the US is on a small scale.
“In fact, I don’t see any impact. In 2020, our sales to the US was around RM22mil compared to our turnover which hovers between RM10bil to RM11bil, ” he pointed out.
However, Haris confided that the group’s reputation is at stake with the US ban on SDP’s palm oil rather than just the financial figures.
He said the planter would continue to engage CBP and LS despite the one-way communication as it has to inform its customers worldwide about the actions the group is taking.
Meanwhile, Haris added that the group is fortunate that its customers in Europe and even in the US understand the situation, saying that its customers have given it a “breathing space” to take the right remedial actions.
“We have and we will give clarity in our capacity to ensure that our reputation is restored, it is not about the US ban but it is about our operations at Sime Darby, ” he explained.
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