IT was recently reported that cotton producers in Xinjiang, China were being targeted for boycott by the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) for allegedly using forced labour in their farms.
The BCI is an organisation based in Switzerland and was started by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2005. BCI member companies were urged to stop buying cotton from Xinjiang despite contrary advice from its Shanghai representative office.
It is also well known that large-scale harvesting of cotton worldwide is now mainly done by machines rather than by human labour.
Back home, a large Malaysian gloves manufacturer was recently labelled by the United States Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agency for allegedly unacceptable labour practices. This was related to the high fees that foreign workers had to pay to their agents, excessive overtime and living quarters or conditions in Malaysia which supposedly did not meet acceptable standards.
The standards of acceptable labour practice were shaped by Western developed countries and do not always fit or can be applied universally, especially in countries that are less developed.
In Asia, we are used to sleeping on the floor as it is cooler and also better for our back. In the Western perspective, when workers are not given a bed and mattress, it would appear as mistreatment.
Foreign workers also want to earn as much as possible to remit the money back to their families. Working overtime is therefore welcomed as it is a means to earn extra income.
If the industries concerned uphold our labour employment laws, there should not be any issues for foreign-based organisations to be unhappy about.
One has to ask whether such standards are fairly applied worldwide.
In Australia, for example, it was reported that students and backpackers picking fruits at farms were paid wages below the minimum amount. This demonstrates that no country is perfect or successful in eradicating bad hats and practices.
Malaysian palm oil companies are constantly being targeted by various parties, which have accused them of not meeting the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) standards. Exporters without CSPO certification will have limited export market opportunities. The CSPO is also an initiative by WWF and is based in Zurich.
It was recently revealed that New Zealand’s once pristine rivers are being contaminated by its dairy farming industry. The Selwyn River in the Canterbury plains is said to be one of the many polluted rivers in New Zealand.
In a recent documentary, scientists explained that fertiliser run-off and faecal effluent from the farming of sheep and cattle, and excessive irrigation by the farms have degraded the environment.
While Malaysia and Indonesia are the world’s largest producers of edible oil, there is competition from the United states, Europe and Australia which are also large producers of such oils, including canola oil, corn oil and sunflower oil.
These oils, however, lack the versatility and healthy qualities of palm oil, which has better cooking properties and is stable even at high temperatures and can yield four to 10 times more oil per cultivated hectare than the other crops.
It must be clearly understood that developed countries did not get to be where they are today without having to go through the same process of deforestation, destruction of wildlife habitats and creation of climate issues.
Slavery, exploitation of resources in their colonised lands and large-scale extermination of wildlife are a big part of their history. In fact, the bison population in North America was almost wiped out by early colonists.
When researchers, journalists and organisations are sponsored by big corporations, the result is a research paper or article well written to promote the sponsor’s product and nothing else.
Malaysian manufacturing and agricultural corporations must be vigilant against dubious accusations and double standards pertaining to environmental issues, climate change and human rights. As the country continually strives to improve, we must stand up and challenge baseless accusations and campaigns.
TAN HOCK LIM