Palm oil farmers say US ban to hurt more than 32,000 planters

An association representing smallholders said the US Customs and Border Protection’s accusation that FGV was using forced labour is unfounded as most workers operate their own farms.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s palm oil planters condemned the US block on imports of FGV Holdings Bhd products, saying the move will affect more than 32,000 farmers.

The National Association of Smallholders Malaysia called the ban a “reckless act” and said it will worsen the commodity’s reputation as it is also facing anti-palm oil campaigns in Europe.

The group said the US Customs and Border Protection’s accusation that FGV was using forced labour is unfounded as most workers operate their own farms.

The US Customs order is the result of a year-long investigation that allegedly revealed labour abuses, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, intimidation, and physical and sexual violence, according to its statement.

The import ban is another blow to the palm oil industry, which is struggling with the drop in demand for cooking oil as the pandemic keeps restaurants shut.

In Malaysia, the world’s second-largest producer, plantations grapple with a worker shortage as the country has restricted travel, even resorting to prisoners for help.

FGV, one of the world’s top producers of the edible oil, has been in talks with American authorities since August last year and has taken steps to uphold labour standards, it said in a Thursday statement.

Another major producer, Sime Darby Plantation Bhd, said it’s concerned about also being hit by action from the US as an NGO had filed a petition of concern over forced and child labour on its plantations.