FGV protests US import ban over alleged forced labour, says respects human rights

The Felda Global Ventures logo is pictured at its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur October 9, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May
The Felda Global Ventures logo is pictured at its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur October 9, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 — FGV Holdings Berhad has expressed its disappointment in the United States’ Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) agency for blocking the import of its palm oil and palm oil products on grounds of alleged forced labour.

It said steps have been taken to demonstrate FGV’s commitment to respect human rights and to uphold labour standards in the past several years which the company, one of the world’s largest palm oil producers, said is well-documented and in the public domain.

“FGV would like to emphasise that all issues raised have been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and FGV has taken several steps to correct the situation,” it said in a statement.

Since August 2019, FGV has been communicating with the USCBP through its legal counsel since August 2019, and has submitted evidence of compliance of labour standards as committed by FGV. 

“We will continue to engage with the USCBP to clear FGV’s name, and are determined to see through its commitment to respect human rights and uphold labour standards,” it said.

FGV cited several examples of the steps it has taken, such as the strengthening of its procedures and processes in the recruitment of migrant workers by establishing four One-Stop Centres in Malaysia and in source countries including India and Indonesia.

“This is part of our efforts to strengthen the pre-departure and post-arrival orientation programmes for our migrant workers. Through these orientation sessions our migrant workers are briefed on various matters including the terms of their employment, job scope and nature of work, rights and responsibilities, as well as benefits and entitlements.

“FGV has also adopted its Guidelines and Procedures for the Responsible Recruitment of Migrant Workers in 2019 in accordance with international standards and will continue to strengthen the document. FGV is committed to paying official costs associated with the recruitment of migrant workers, which include airfare and costs for work permit, visa, medical check-up and insurance, and has also revised its contract with recruitment agencies to require them to ensure that no fees are charged on the workers,” it said.

The company denied involvement in any recruitment or employment of refugees, adding that as of 2020, it recruits migrant workers mainly from India and Indonesia through legal channels and processes recognised and approved by the Malaysian authorities and the source countries. 

“As of August, FGV has 11,286 Indonesian workers and 4,683 Indian workers, who together, form the majority of its plantation workforce. Furthermore, FGV does not hire contract workers and all workers are employed directly by us.

“FGV is also pioneering the implementation of the electronic wallet cashless payroll system for its plantation workers. The system acts as a more convenient and efficient way for workers to manage their finances and was successfully rolled out on February in Gua Musang, Kelantan, involving 1,500 registered users in 11 of its estates. By the first quarter of 2021, FGV aims to implement this system for its entire plantation sector, including estates in Sabah and Sarawak,” it said.

The company also does not retain the passports of its workers, and instead has installed a total of 32,250 safety boxes throughout all its 68 complexes, as an option for migrant workers to keep their passports safely.

“In fulfilling the rights of workers to adequate housing, FGV has invested approximately RM350 million to upgrade housing facilities for its workers over the past three years, by constructing new residences in our plantations all over the country. Similarly, FGV respects workers’ right to healthcare through the benefits provided, which cover annual expenses for outpatient care and an unlimited allocation for inpatient treatment.

“Mindful of fulfilling human rights and sustainability standards throughout our supply chain, FGV has adopted a Supplier Code of Conduct outlining the principles and standards relating to sustainability; business ethics and integrity; safety, health and environment; and labour, with which our suppliers and vendors are required to comply,” it said.

Any supplier or vendor that is found to not be in compliance with the code will be subjected to FGV’s Supplier Delinquency Guidelines, with the possibility of being suspended or terminated and blacklisted should they fail to demonstrate willingness to rectify gaps in their practices.

“It is worth reiterating that FGV does not tolerate any form of human rights infringements or criminal offense in its operations, and pays serious attention to any allegation of physical or sexual violence as well as intimidation or threats. As a responsible company any case of such nature will be acted upon by FGV including by reporting them to the relevant authorities.

“Recognising that respecting human rights is a continuous endeavour, FGV became a participating company of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and is currently implementing a long-term and comprehensive action plan under its affiliation to the FLA that comprises a number of initiatives to further strengthen various aspects of our labour practices such as our recruitment process, human rights training programmes, working and living conditions, as well as grievance mechanisms, among others,” it said.

The company’s action plan for 2020 was adopted on March 31 in consultation with the FLA and with various other stakeholders including civil society organisations, at a time when the Covid-19 situation was rapidly worsening both in Malaysia and globally.

“Despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, which forced FGV to realign its priorities to ensure that necessary measures are taken to curb and combat the spread of Covid-19, we remained committed to implementing the action plan and believe that concrete progress has been made in the six months of implementation beginning April 2020. 

“FGV’s affiliation to the FLA is subject to a rigorous validation exercise and public reporting. FLA’s report on FGV’s progress on the implementation of the action plan is published on FLA’s website,” it said.

In a statement, the USCBP said shipments from FGV and its subsidiaries will be held back at all ports of entry into the United States, effective Wednesday.

The agency has stated the order was issued based on information that “reasonably indicates” the use of forced labour, following investigations lasting over a year that indicated human rights abuses such as deception, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, movement restriction, among others.