Sime Darby says in the dark over NGO’s forced labour claims

Sime Darby Plantations has been accused of child and forced labour by US-based organisation Shared Liberty.

PETALING JAYA: Palm oil giant Sime Darby Plantation (SDP) today responded to allegations of child and forced labour by a US-based group, saying it is in the dark over the specific claims contained in a petition filed against it with the US Customs and Border Protection.

In a statement, SDP said Liberty Shared had not contacted it for a response to the allegations before filing the petition against it.

It said it only had access to the petition summary which contains the issues raised but “without any details on the interviews that were conducted”.

“In the spirit of openness, transparency and collaboration that SDP has always upheld, we intend to engage with Liberty Shared to further understand these allegations in detail to enable us to conduct a thorough and immediate investigation, and take corrective action, as the findings may warrant,” it said.

News agency AP earlier reported that the NGO had filed a petition to ban the import of palm oil produced by Sime Darby following alleged evidence of child and forced labour on plantations supplying US food and cosmetic companies.

The allegations, including the withholding of wages, retention of passports and inadequate living conditions, were based on interviews conducted with local and foreign workers over a period of two years.

Liberty Shared managing director Duncan Jepson said the group had also met with civil society groups and scrutinised public disclosures, audit reports and sustainability initiatives.

In the report by AP, the group said it “found that Sime Darby had taken few concrete steps to prevent abuse”.

According to AP, the petition against SDP follows two others filed against FGV Holdings Bhd by a law firm and coalition of NGOs.

SDP said it was concerned by the allegations as they ran counter to commitments it had publicly made in its charters on responsible agriculture and human rights.

It also said it had made progress in improving its labour practices which were disclosed in its sustainability report for 2019.

“We are truly committed to eradicating instances of non-compliance by imposing immediate and appropriate corrective actions if and when they arise,” it said.

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