Sime Darby halts internal probe into sexual assault allegation after case revisitation

Kenneth Tee
·3-min read
A general view of the Sime Darby Plantation headquarters in Petaling Jaya October 2, 2019. — Reuters pic
A general view of the Sime Darby Plantation headquarters in Petaling Jaya October 2, 2019. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 3 — Amid allegations of sexual harassment against female employees at its estates, Sime Darby Plantation (SDP) announced today it will halt ongoing internal investigations after failing to obtain relevant evidence and witnesses during a revisitation of a case highlighted in a news report.

In a statement today, the company said a complainant identified in the allegations had insisted that she was in no way coerced or intimidated into withdrawing her complaint at the material time when the alleged incidents took place.

“Due to the specific nature of the information in the article, we were able to immediately identify the particular case and revisit it, even though the complainant had withdrawn her complaint in April 2019, two months after it was first brought to light.

“As the complainant was steadfast about withdrawing the complaint, the company had accordingly closed the matter as there were no other witnesses to the alleged act.

“We had also then informed the independent non-governmental organisation (NGO) assisting the complainant of her decision. The NGO in question acknowledged the decision to close the case,” it said in a statement here.

A report by the Associated Press, which was published by news outlets such as Al Jazeera and The Japan Times, contained allegations of rape and sexual assault by a number of women working on oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia.

In the article, a woman working on a Sime Darby plantation said her boss had made sexually explicit comments to her and that he would not only lurk behind her in the fields but also when she went to the bathroom.

Despite the probe’s closure, SDP said it still got in touch with the aforementioned complainant during a recent revisitation and the latter informed the company’s Gender Committee representative she had no intention of reopening the case while also denying offensive statements had been made to her in the first place.

“Another female colleague identified as the actual target of the alleged statement, has denied that she had heard the statement, if it had been made at all.

“Thus, without any evidence, witnesses or even a victim, we have no basis to pursue further investigations and have accordingly closed the case again,” it added.

SDP also disclosed both individuals were still being employed in its estates under the protection of the systems in place.

“We have taken this opportunity to reinforce the many safeguards, processes and procedures that are in place for our female workforce and to educate all employees of the appropriate conduct expected of them at all times.

“SDP reiterates our zero tolerance for any forms of sexual or human rights violations, exploitation, abuse or any other criminal offences in our operations and supply chains.

“We will continue to ensure the safety and well-being of all members of our workforce, especially the more vulnerable,” it added.

In addressing human rights issues within the industry, SDP said it will continue to engage in collaborations with stakeholders especially civil society organisations to continuously improve its policies and practices in upholding human rights.

“As exemplified in the above case, we have worked with a range of NGOs and civil society organisations over the years to strengthen our efforts in safeguarding the fundamental rights of our workforce, regardless of gender or ethnicities.

Any individuals or organisations, including members of the media, with evidence of any wrongdoing are encouraged to report them to us immediately, or to the relevant authorities,” it said.

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