Zuraida: Be extra sensitive of US CBP Forced Labour rule


THE Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry (MPIC) is advising industry players to be extra sensitive to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Forced Labour Regulations to circumvent Withhold Release Orders (WROs) pitfalls. 

This followed the CBP’s recent clarification to the Malaysian media how it derived evidence of forced labour allegations and how it pursued its investigations that led to products from six Malaysian firms still being prevented from entering the US market after being slapped with WROs.

MPIC Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin (picture) said while her ministry did not intend to dispute this prerogative, the allegations were unfair and biased as they were based on remote or third-party evidence.

However, she said, the US enforcement agencies had the prerogative to take action based on what at that time was considered to be the information they obtained.

“Restrictions on the entry of Malaysian palm oil and palm oil products (and after that, rubber gloves) are only based on allegations of forced labour made by NGOs and other groups.

“Nevertheless, CBP in detailing the route taken and the next action against some companies has stated that its investigation is done based on information, analysis and reasonable assumptions.

“In this regard, Malaysian palm oil and palm oil-related products may have to compete directly with soybean oil, where the US is the world’s leading producer and second-highest exporter,” she said in a statement today.

Zuraida added that Malaysian industry players especially in the labour-intensive plantation and rubber sheath sectors need to take into account the sensitivity of CBP and find an action plan so that WROs are not imposed again on allegations of forced labour.

She said her ministry appreciated the efforts of the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (Margma) to work with CBP on the governance of foreign and local labour issues.

“It is understood that Margma has spearheaded such efforts since 2018 when it upheld a zero-debt policy and also initiated remedial actions that every member needs to take to separate them from the stigma of forced labour, using 11 International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines.

“Margma has also formed an Environment, Social and Governance unit and a taskforce to educate and make members of the association and their employees aware of the 11 ILO guidelines on forced labour.

“This active effort is done through cooperation with the ILO and the US, UK and European Union embassies as well as high commissions in Malaysia,” Zuraida added.

On June 2, two US CBP officials admitted that the legal threshold required to issue a WRO against any company is “fairly low”.

They also admitted that the agency does not consult or seek explanation from the companies involved, prior to issuing the WROs. However, they confirmed that a WRO can be issued as long as there are “reasonable suspicions” as required by the US law.