- UPDATED 9.14PM | Included Human Resources Minister comment on the ban and reveals another large Malaysian plantation firm will be next.
FGV Holdings Bhd has denied allegations of using forced labour as claimed by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
This is after the CBP moved to ban imports of palm oil from FGV yesterday.
FGV said it was disappointed by the ban, as it had taken "concrete steps" to address human rights issues and uphold labour standards.
"FGV would like to emphasise that all issues raised have been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and FGV has taken several steps to correct the situation.
"FGV's efforts are well documented and available in the public domain," it said in a statement this morning.
In announcing the ban, the CBP said a year-long investigation had revealed indications of forced labour, including abuse of the vulnerable, deception, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, among others.
The investigation also reportedly raised concerns that forced child labour was potentially being used by FGV.
In response, FGV said all its migrant workers, mainly from India and Indonesia, were hired through legal channels, and that one-stop centres had been established in the countries of origin to brief them on their terms of employment, job scope, and rights.
They added that they don't hire contract workers and that all workers were employed directly by FGV.
On the allegation that identity documents were retained, FGV said this was not part of its practice. They said they installed 32,250 safety boxes throughout all 68 complexes as an option for the migrants to safely store their passports.
The company also said it had invested RM350 million to upgrade housing facilities for its workers.
They also said that it had a supplier code of conduct to ensure that labour, health, safety, sustainability and business ethics standards are practised throughout the supply chain. Suppliers that don't comply risk being blacklisted.
"It is worth reiterating that FGV does not tolerate any form of human rights infringements or criminal offence in its operations.
"FGV pays serious attention to any allegation of physical or sexual violence as well as intimidation or threats, and as a responsible company any case of such nature will be acted upon by FGV including by reporting them to the relevant authorities," they said.
They said they had been in communication with the CBP since August last year and had submitted evidence of FGV's compliance with labour standards.
The company also said that since 2019 it had revised its contract with recruitment agencies to ensure that no fees are charged on the workers, and FGV bears the airfare and costs for work permits, visas, medical check-ups and insurance.
Minister: Ban will hit a second firm
Commenting on the ban on FGV, Human Resources Minister M Saravanan said he would seek more details before deciding if any action will be taken.
“Be patient. This (allegation) involves many quarters and it’s too early (to comment). I have to get more information first,” he was quoted as saying by national newswire Bernama.
He also revealed that he received news of a second large Malaysian plantation firm set to be banned by the CBP but did not name the company.
"Another big firm will be banned soon," Reuters quoted him as saying.
Previously glove maker Top Glove had also been slapped with a ban by the CBP, similarly for allegedly using forced labour.
Top Glova has since begun reimbursing its migrant workers who joined the company before the implementation of its 'Zero Cost Recruitment Policy' in January last year, in an effort to get the ban lifted.
Meanwhile, migrant rights NGO Tenaganita said it had been raising the issues of alleged forced labour in FGV's supply chain for years.
"So once again, we demand all palm oil producers, including FGV, take proactive steps to ensure the human and labour rights of workers in their plantations are respected and upheld at all time by eliminating forced labour conditions, instead of reacting to (bans), detention holds, investigations and adverse publicity.
"We cannot continue to put profit before people/workers, we must value workers!" Tenaganita executive director Glorene A Das said in a statement.
Separately, Global Labor Justice - International Labor Rights Forum(GLJ - ILRF) - one of the three petitioners who lodged a complaint against FGV with the CBP - hailed the ban.
It's legal and policy director Esmeralda Lopez claimed FGV had a history of inaccurate reporting and lack of transparency, and as such urged the CBP to consult with the petitioners before making any moves to revoke the ban.
Meanwhile, Freedom United executive director Joanna Ewart-James said the ban should not be lifted based only on FGV's promises.
"We need concrete proof and independent verification that workers' rights are being upheld and that conditions that put them at risk of forced labour have been rectified," she said.