The ministry believes there should be a fairer medium for Malaysia and the US to discuss the allegations on forced labour
by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by TMR FILE
THE Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry (MPIC) is looking for a viable response to the US import ban on palm oil produced by FGV Holdings Bhd.
Its Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali said Malaysia and the US need to discuss the matter at a more neutral level as allegations made against FGV can hurt trade activities between the two countries.
“The ministry believes there should be a fairer medium for Malaysia and the US to discuss the allegations on forced labour which could jeopardise trade between the two countries,” he said in a statement yesterday.
The US remains one of Malaysia’s essential revenue contributors for agri-commodity products with an export value of RM14.1 billion between January and August 2020.
Earlier this month, the US Customs and Border Protection issued an order to restrict palm oil imports from FGV due to ongoing investigations into allegations of forced labour practices.
According to the US agency, the year-long investigation revealed signs of abuse of vulnerable workers through deception, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, and threats and retention of identity documents.
Mohd Khairuddin said FGV had approached the ministry to explain the allegations made on the planter and its impacts on Malaysia’s palm oil industry.
“The ministry has received a visit by FGV, led by its group chief strategic communication officer Datuk Najmuddin Abdullah to discuss several issues including the US’ allegations on forced labour practices by FGV and the development of the domestic palm oil industry.
“The ministry has been informed that FGV has shown high commitment and has taken the necessary steps to revoke the withhold release order since the petition was issued. The company has also taken steps to improve its hiring system of foreign labour and establish a working standard to ensure the livelihoods of its foreign labours are safeguarded,” he said.
In 2018, the ministry conducted a study on the labour sector in the palm plantation industry that was assisted by the International Labour Organisation as a technical consultant.
Mohd Khairuddin said the study would be presented to the US Department of Labour as an attempt to relieve Malaysia from the US’ list of countries under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act.
“The report is expected to avoid any restriction of Malaysia’s agricultural commodity in the future,” he added.
This is in addition to Malaysia’s decision to temporarily cease the hiring of foreign labour as part of the country’s pledge to eradicate forced labour.
Mohd Khairuddin urged local palm oil producers, including FGV, to continue seeking new export markets particularly in the African and Central Asia regions, to strengthen the country’s export of the commodity amid the Covid-19 pandemic.