Malaysia to meet CPB and EU by July to clarify forced labour assumptions

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is seeking meetings with the United States' Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency and the European Union (EU) by July to set the record straight on forced labour allegations.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin said this was to address the Withhold Release Order (WRO) issued by the CPB to FGV Holdings and Sime Darby Plantations in 2020.

The WRO effectively bans the companies which are major oil palm producers from exporting their supplies to the US which is also a top consumer of the commodity.

Zuraida said the meetings, conducted separately with representatives from the CPB and the EU would be to clarify the industry's labour indicators.

"The meeting(s) will be on the allegations of forced labour and also to explain about our terms on (forced labour) that they seem to be defining differently from us."

She said the engagement would offer the parties who differ in their outlook on the industry to understand how the Malaysian labour system works.

"When they understand there are differences, this will reduce baseless accusations," she said after a briefing on her 10-nation working visit to promote agri-commodities, here today.

Zuraida met the US ambassador to Malaysia Brian D. McFeeters and wrote to the CPB seeking to set a date for the meeting with the agency this month. However, no dates were available within the stated timeframe.

Similar requests were also made to the EU.

On March 8, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan told the Dewan Rakyat that the CBP had not given any details of the offences committed but went ahead and issued the WRO on products from some Malaysian companies.

He said the Labour Department's probe into the 11 indicators, as specified under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as "forced labour", revealed no breach whatsoever.

Zuraida also said Malaysia would be attending the dispute proceedings on the EU's alleged discrimination against the national palm oil industry from May 8 to 18 to provide explanations on the matter.

"We will have a hearing session for 10 days," she said.

Earlier Zuraida also denied CPB's allegations that Sime Darby Plantation (SDP) had used forced labour, causing Italian confectionery giant, Ferrero to stop sourcing palm oil and palm kernel oil from the company.

"The (allegation) was not made by Ferrero, but by CBP. SDP does not supply palm oil to Ferrero and they have also issued a statement on the matter," she said.

Last Friday, Reuters reported that Ferrero told its global suppliers to stop sourcing palm oil and palm kernel oil from SDP, saying the decision was made after the US alleged that the company was utilising forced labour.

However, SDP said Ferrero is not its customer and had not been for a while.

General Mills and The Hershey Company, confectionaries that were named in the Reuters news report were also not its customers.

However, SDP confirmed its direct customer, Cargill had decided to suspend all new sourcing of palm oil and derivative products from the company effective Feb 25, 2022.

Malaysia is under increasing international scrutiny after it was downgraded to Tier 3 in the recent US government's Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report due to forced labour concerns.

Several local companies, including some that are government-linked, have been put on the WRO list by the CBP.

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