FGV appeals against suspension of certification process for mills
FGV / pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

FGV Holdings Bhd has appealed against the Complaints Panel of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) decision to resuspend the certification of its Serting Mill Complex in Jempol, Negri Sembilan.

The planter has also appealed against the panel’s suspension of all certification processes for FGV’s currently uncertified mills, it said in a statement yesterday.

FGV submitted its appeal to the RSPO last Friday, after being notified of the decision on Jan 13, 2020.

In its appeal, the agri-commodities firm said the two independent verification bodies appointed by the RSPO — Bureau Veritas Certification (M) Sdn Bhd and TUV Nord (M) Sdn Bhd (TUV) — had recognised the planter’s efforts and progress to fulfil the RSPO Complaints Panel directive issued in November 2018.

The two mill complexes audited by TUV, which are located in Sahabat, Sabah, are only scheduled for certification in 2021 and thus unprepared for audits, it added.

The RSPO had sanctioned FGV in 2018 over allegations including forced labour, restriction of workers’ movements, trafficking workers and poor living conditions, among others.

“The Complaints Panel identified seven non-compliances, one of which was classified as major.

“This was in relation to the presence of undocumented workers, a matter which was true only for the two uncertified estates in Sabah and which had been transparently communicated to the Complaints Panel and all FGV’s stakeholders over the span of several months,” the group said.

To resolve the undocumented workers issue, the group had worked with the Sabah Immigration Department and several foreign embassies to document and regularise 6,158 workers by end-June 2020.

It said the Complaints Panel was aware of this timeline and had acknowledged the complexity of the matter, given that it involves three governments and amendments to state policies and procedures.

“An action plan for this exercise was submitted to the Complaints Panel on Feb 13, 2020. However, FGV has yet to receive a response from the Complaints Panel,” it stated.

Five non-major non-compliances have been rectified since the audits were concluded and in accordance with the group’s timelines for completion. Of these five, three were also found in the two uncertified complexes in Sabah.

The remaining two non-compliances were found in mill complexes in Peninsular Malaysia and involved the “timing of socialisation exercises of several new policies and procedures”.

One non-compliance was “vaguely worded”, FGV said, adding that it is still awaiting response from the RSPO for greater clarity.

For the Serting Complex, where the original 41 non-compliances were found in November 2018, the independent audit revealed only one remaining non-compliance.

This was related to workers’ complaints that they had to pay fees to the recruitment agency in their home country to expedite the recruitment process.

FGV argued that its Guidelines and Procedures for the Responsible Recruitment of Foreign Workers was adopted on June 27, 2019 and the socialisation of these guidelines among third parties is still ongoing.

“It is also unclear whether the workers interviewed during the audit were recruited before or after the adoption of the said guidelines. Thus, this non-compliance relates to the timing of new policies and procedures that FGV have adopted,” it said.

There was also a lapse of about three months between the completion of the verification audits and the letter issued by the Complaints Panel, it added.

FGV CEO Datuk Haris Fadzilah Hassan said the planter has been able to rectify 34 of the 41 non-compliances identified in November 2018 following an overhaul of the planter’s internal policies and standards.