KUALA LUMPUR: Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP) has started legal action against Duncan Jepson, the managing director of Liberty Shared, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), over his allegations of forced labour in its plantations.
In a filing with Bursa Malaysia, SDP said the legal action – the first time in its 200-year history against an NGO -- was to obtain important information pertaining to Jepson’s complaint with the Securities Commission.
SDP said in the complaint, he alleged wrongful disclosures in SDP’s Sustainability Report 2019.
The SC started investigations into Jepson’s complaint and had accordingly, sought additional information from SDP.“As a responsible corporate citizen listed on the Malaysian bourse, SDP will cooperate fully with the SC. Thus, it is vitally important that SDP is able to obtain limited but critical information from the complaint filed by Jepson, ” it said.
Liberty Shared had filed a complaint with the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) on April 20,2020, alleging the use of forced labour in the production of palm oil in SDP’s Malaysian estates.
SDP was made aware of this complaint on July 7,2020, when Liberty Shared issued a summary of the complaint on its website.
“This summary did not contain sufficient information to allow SDP to close any alleged gaps in our operations, which would have naturally benefited our workforce.
“This is the first time in SDP’s 200-year history that we have resorted to taking legal action against an NGO. SDP engages with non-governmental and 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 said.
SDP said despite several direct and indirect engagements, Jepson continues to withhold vital information that could have helped the very workers he claimed to champion.
In October 2020, SDP had appointed PwC Singapore, on Jepson’s request, to share with SDP the information necessary to address the alleged issues found in its plantations.
SDP said subsequently, PwC Singapore appointed yet another individual who works closely with Jepson and Liberty Shared, again on Jepson’s request.
“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.