US says Sime Darby Plantation products no longer produced with forced labour

KUALA LUMPUR: The United States Customs authorities said palm oil products made by Sime Darby Plantation were no longer produced with forced labour, in a sign that a two-year import ban on the Malaysian firm will soon be lifted.

Goods made by Sime Darby Plantation, the world's largest palm oil company by land size, have been blocked by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from entering the US since December 2020 over suspected abusive labour practices.

In response, Sime Darby Plantation appointed an ethical trade consultancy to audit its facilities, and last year set aside about $20mil to compensate current and former migrant workers who paid recruitment fees to secure jobs at the firm.

ALSO READ: Engagement with US CBP ongoing: Sime Darby Plantation

In a notice published for public inspection on the U.S. Federal Register website on Thursday, CBP said it had now "determined that the products were no longer being mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part with the use of convict, forced, or indentured labor by Sime Darby Plantation", citing additional information it had received.

The CBP did not specify what evidence it had received or whether the ban on the firm's imports had been lifted. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sime Darby said it was aware of the US notice.

"We are optimistic that the tremendous strides we have made in bolstering the quality of life for our workforce will soon be recognised by the CBP and that we will be allowed to resume exports to the United States," a spokesman said in an email to Reuters.

Shares of Sime Darby Plantation eased 0.5% on Friday morning.

Sime Darby Plantation is among eight Malaysian firms that have been banned by the United States in the past four years over forced labour allegations.

Malaysia in 2021 announced a government plan to eliminate abusive practices such as debt bondage, unhygienic dormitories for workers, and excessive overtime, by 2030. - Reuters

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi Editing by Ed Davies)

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