SDP begins legal proceedings against NGO

The purpose of the proceedings is to obtain important information pertaining to a complaint filed by Jepson with the SC, says SDP

By S BIRRUNTHA / Pic By BLOOMBERG

SIME Darby Plantation Bhd (SDP) has commenced legal proceedings against NGO Liberty Shared’s MD Duncan Jepson to obtain information pertaining to a complaint filed by Jepson with the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) against the planter.

The group in a statement yesterday said it had announced legal proceedings for the discovery of critical information against Jepson on March 9 in the Eastern District of Virginia, US.

SDP said the purpose of the proceedings is to obtain important information pertaining to a complaint filed by Jepson with the SC, which alleged that SDP had made wrongful disclosures in its 2019 Sustainability Report.

“The SC commenced investigations into Jepson’s complaint and accordingly sought additional information from SDP. As a responsible corporate citizen listed on the Malaysian bourse, SDP will cooperate fully with the SC. “Thus, it is vitally important that SDP is able to obtain limited but critical information from the complaint filed by Jepson,” the statement read. This is the first time SDP resorted to taking legal action against an NGO.

SDP said despite several direct and indirect engagements, Jepson continued to withhold vital information that could have helped the plantation workers he claims to champion.

The company said it had appointed PwC Singapore in October 2020, on Jepson’s request, to share the necessary information to address the alleged issues found in its plantations. PwC Singapore subsequently appointed another individual, who works closely with Jep- son and Liberty Shared, on Jepson’s request.

SDP noted that neither PwC Singapore nor the individual has been able to share the material information needed to address any issues that may exist in its plantations.

“Jepson has expressed his view that the appointment of NGOs to assist SDP would not be ideal as, in his opinion, ‘social compliance specialists will not be able to offer an honest assessment of corporate governance and internal controls’.

“He also continues to withhold information despite repeated assurances that our main concern is the wellbeing of our workforce and that at SDP, whistleblowers are protected as a matter of course,” the company added.

Previously, Liberty Shared had filed a complaint with the US Customs and Border Protection on April 20, 2020, alleging the use of forced labour in the production of palm oil in SDP’s Malaysian estates.

SDP said it was made aware of this complaint on July 7, 2020, when Liberty Shared issued a summary of the complaint on its website.

According to SDP, this summary did not contain sufficient information to allow it to close any alleged gaps in its operations that would have benefitted its workforce.

On March 1, SDP appointed a third-party Human Rights Commission to offer independent and expert assessments of the company’s entire Malaysian operations.

At close yesterday, shares of SDP ended four sen or 0.81% lower at RM4.91, valuing the company at RM33.8 billion.