KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 — Cultural differences and the way things work in Malaysia are among the factors involved in the decision by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to detain any palm oil and products manufactured by two local palm oil companies and their subsidiaries or affiliates over allegations of forced labour.
Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) director-general Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir said forced labour defined by the United States was probably different from Malaysia which subsequently led to the misunderstanding and subsequent ban on oil palm products.
As Ahmad explained, he said the practice of children helping their parents has been commonplace in Malaysian palm oil plantations for a very long time.
“Every time, when there is a school holiday, this is a common practice in Felda and small plantations.
“However, there are articles published previously on labour issues within the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia where children were supposed to be in school to improve their family’s circumstances yet remained in plantations.
“We must understand that there are certain quarters who sought to use this issue as their propaganda. If possible, we should avoid such matters from persisting since related NGOs could take advantage of the situation and claim the use of child labour,” he was quoted as saying by Astro Awani.
In July, a Hong Kong-based anti-trafficking NGO called Liberty Shared had petitioned against Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby Plantation Bhd due to alleged child and forced labour.
Yesterday, the CBP said a withhold release order was issued based on information that Sime Darby Plantation has 11 of the marks of forced labour designated by the International Labour Organisation.
Last year, the CBP had already issued a separate order against another Malaysian palm oil giant, FGV Holdings Bhd, following claims of child and forced labour, following two petitions — by the Grant & Eisenhofer ESG Institute, and International Labor Rights Forum, Rainforest Action Network and SumOfUs.
However, Ahamd said the ban should not be taken lightly and must be resolved as soon as possible.
“Even though the United States (as an oil palm importer) is ranked 15th, it is crucial for us to maintain our foothold in the global marketplace because such a small matter could grow worse,” he said.
He also expressed confidence that Sime Darby will take the necessary steps to regain trust in their products.
“Many seem to misunderstand the labour issue because what we are doing is in line with our needs. But in the US, they have their own labour laws where their definition of forced labour is different from ours.
“Maybe some of our actions which we considered normal and exclude involvement of forced labour are to them a kind of forced labour,” Ahmad added.
The US is one of the largest importers of Malaysian palm oil products. In 2019, exports of Malaysian palm oil products to the US were worth RM3.1 billion (1.1 million tonnes).
The American Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits entry of goods that arrive at US ports if there is reason to believe they contain materials made with forced labour.
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