SDP gets green light for palm oil exports to US

SDP group managing director Mohamad Helmy Othman

PETALING JAYA: Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP) has been given the nod by the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) to resume its exports of palm oil products to the United States, following a more than two-year ban on allegations of forced labour.

A modified finding by the USCBP cleared the plantation giant of forced labour allegations, specifically involving palm oil and derivative products.

In the notice for public inspection, USCBP said it has “now determined, based upon additional information, that such merchandise is no longer being produced with the use of forced labour.”

Despite the determination, the evidence USCBP had received was not documented either.

“With this decision, the USCBP has recognised the comprehensive process undertaken by SDP in the last two years to review, revise and – where necessary – upgrade its protocols for recruiting, managing and working with its workers,” SDP said in its filing with Bursa Malaysia yesterday.

Group managing director Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha said the exercise has been very valuable in establishing an approach to ensure its employees feel safe, satisfied, supported and fairly treated.

“It took us more than 500,000 man hours to undertake our reviews and to revise what we already had in place,” he added.

In December 2020, SDP, the world’s largest palm oil company by land size, was slapped with a withhold release order from the USCBP, which prohibits its products from entering the United States, due to allegations of forced labour practices.

In January 2022, USCBP issued another public inspection notice reporting its findings, which confirms the certain SDP’s palm oil and derivative products which are tied “with the use of convict, forced or indentured labour, are being, or are likely to be, imported into the United States.”

In response to the findings, SDP had on April 26, 2022 announced that it submitted a comprehensive report to USCBP to demonstrate its full compliance with US import regulations and international labour standards.

SDP has internal controls and systems in place to protect the rights of its workers and ensure their well-being whilst addressing and removing the existence of any possible indicators of forced labour, it highlighted previously.

Notably, last year, SDP had set aside about US$20mil (RM85.16mil) to compensate current and former migrant workers who paid recruitment fees to secure jobs at the firm.

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