Suhakam: Palm oil plantation workers subjected to forced labour

Malaysia should immediately put in place effective measures to circumvent and remedy this issue, the commission chairman says 


THE Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) stated that eight out of 1,000 workers in the oil palm plantation sector in Malaysia are in forced labour, which includes private estate and government scheme workers. 

The majority of those who suffer from this state of work are the poorest and most vulnerable in society. 

Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Othman Hashim said forced labour is a criminal offence and a violation of fundamental human rights. 

In his opening speech yesterday, he stated that forced labour is a serious issue that needs to be addressed with concern and urgency. 

“The issuance of numerous withhold release orders by the US Customs and Border Protection on Malaysian companies over alleged forced labour practices is not only a matter of great interest to Suhakam but we are concerned as well,” he said in an online event yesterday 

He added that there is an urgent need for Malaysia to immediately put in place effective measures to circumvent and remedy forced labour practices occurring in the country involving Malaysian companies. 

“Businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and to take steps towards ensuring their activities and operations do not have an adverse impact on human rights,” he said. 

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which were adopted in 2011, remains the primary guidance for the promotion of the business and human rights agenda based on the three pillars. 

In regards to the Malaysian government’s efforts to address the issue of forced labour in Malaysia, Othman said Putrajaya has taken several initiatives to combat the problem 

“Suhakam commends the launching of Malaysia’s first-ever National Action Plan on Forced Labour (NAPFL) 2021–2025 in November last year to address and eradicate forced labour. 

“The framework has been put in place. Suhakam urges for tangible outcomes, including law reform and effective remedies, to be formulated, approved and implemented at the earliest possible,” the chairman said. 

He added that Suhakam looks forward to the NAPFL’s critically addressing, among others, more stringent requirements for companies to implement effective due diligence procedures and grievance mechanisms, particularly in their employment practices while the government should remain committed to the ethical and responsible conduct of businesses. 

“We also call upon the government to ensure all companies operating in Malaysia to comply with international standards and best practices to prevent and eradicate forced labour practices in Malaysia.”