WASHINGTON — The US Customs and Border Protection on Sept. 30 began detaining palm oil and palm oil products made by FGV Holdings Berhad, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and its subsidiaries and joint ventures based on information that reasonably indicated the use of forced labor.
FGV Holdings accounts for about 15% of Malaysia’s total annual production of crude palm oil, according to the company. Malaysia accounts for 28% of world palm oil production and 33% of world exports, according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.
A year-long investigation raised concerns that forced child labor potentially was being used in FGV’s palm oil production process, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The investigation revealed forced labor indicators, including abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime.
Palm oil is used in processed foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, soap and biodiesel, according to the CBP.
“The use of forced labor in the production of such a ubiquitous product allows companies to profit from the abuse of vulnerable workers,” said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade. “These companies are creating unfair competition for legitimately sourced goods and exposing the public to products that fail to meet ethical standards.”
A federal statute prohibits the importation of merchandise mined, manufactured or produced, wholly or in part, by forced labor, including convict labor, forced child labor and indentured labor.
FGV Holdings responded that the issues raised by the CBP have been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and that the company has taken several steps to correct the situation.
“FGV is disappointed that such decision has been made when FGV has been taking concrete steps over the past several years in demonstrating its commitment to respect human rights and to uphold labor standards,” the company said.
FGV Holdings said it has established four centers in Malaysia and in countries like India and Indonesia to strengthen the pre-departure and post-arrival orientation program for migrant workers. FGV is not involved in recruiting or employing refugees and recruits its migrant workers mainly from India and Indonesia through legal channels and processes recognized and approved by the authorities of Malaysia and the source countries. FGV said in August the company had 11,286 Indonesian workers and 4,683 Indian workers who make up a majority of the company’s workforce.
FGV Holdings added it is implementing a plan under its affiliation to the Fair Labor Association that comprises a number of initiatives, including recruitment process, human rights training programs, working and living conditions, and grievance mechanisms.