The United States has banned imports from a Malaysian palm oil giant whose products are found in numerous household goods over concerns that its workers face a litany of abuse.
The move against Sime Darby Plantation, one of the world’s biggest producers, marks the second time the US has blocked shipments from a palm oil company in the Southeast Asian nation in just months.
Palm oil is a common ingredient in items ranging from processed foods to cosmetics, with Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia producing 85 percent of the world’s supply.
But activists have long claimed that low-paid workers on plantations face abuse, and also blame the industry for driving destruction of rainforests to make way for the vast agricultural estates.
Announcing the ban late Wednesday, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said there was evidence Sime Darby workers face abuses including sexual and physical violence, withholding of wages and restrictions on movement.
The ban “demonstrates how essential it is for Americans to research the origins of the everyday products that they purchase,” said CBP acting commissioner Mark A. Morgan.
The decision means that all Sime Darby palm oil and palm oil products from Malaysia are barred from entering US ports.
It came after anti-trafficking group Liberty Shared petitioned the CBP to block Sime Darby imports over concerns about labour abuse.
In a statement, the producer insisted it was “committed to combatting forced labour and has implemented robust policies to protect workers’ rights”, and pledged to work with US officials to address their concerns.
Shares in Sime Darby Plantation, whose annual exports to the US are worth about $5 million, fell 3.5 percent in Kuala Lumpur following news of the ban.
The company, which supplies major firms such as Nestle and Unilever, employs migrant workers from countries including Indonesia and Bangladesh on its network of sprawling plantations.
In October, the US banned imports from another Malaysian palm oil producer, FGV Holdings, following a lengthy probe that found evidence its workers were mistreated.