KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 -- The government is firming up plans to further improve the good labour practices among oil palm stakeholders, said the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.
Its secretary-general Datuk Ravi Muthayah said that the oil palm industry is faced with allegations of forced labour and child labour and the government is doing its best to dispel the accusation.
“These are all based on perception but we have actually undertaken a study together with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on whether there are elements of forced labour in the industry.
“Our study has shown that based on the methodology endorsed by the ILO, the prevalence rates of forced labour and child labour In Malaysia are only 0.8 per cent and 0.2 per cent,” he said during a 40-minute Reuters Next Virtual forum on palm oil production in Asia today.
The study was undertaken in 2017 and completed in 2018, he said.
Ravi was replying to a question pertaining to the US Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) withhold release order (WRO) announcement on Dec 30, 2020.
The US CBP detained palm oil products from Sime Darby Plantations Bhd (SDP) and its subsidiaries, joint-ventures and affiliated entities in Malaysia on forced labour allegations petitioned by a non-government organisation (NGO), Liberty Shared.
Citing a statement issued by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) pertaining to this allegation, Ravi said the RSPO confirmed that an initial review of audit findings done earlier last year did not generate any red flags against SDP.
“Besides that, Sime Darby Plantation is known to practise good agricultural practices (GAP) and constantly strengthening its sustainability policies.
“This shows that SDP subscribes to a number of initiatives including a policy of no deforestation, no peatland development and no labour exploitation through its Responsible Agriculture Charter and Human Rights Charter,” he said.
Prior to this, the US CBP had also issued a WRO on palm oil products from FGV Holdings Bhd on Sept 30, 2020.
Both companies are currently in negotiations and discussions with the US CBP on the matter.
Commenting on this, Sime Darby Oils Sdn Bhd managing director Mohd Haris Mohd Arshad said the plantation company is currently engaging with an NGO and has been advised to select or appoint a mediator who will gather information and assess whether there are evidences of forced labour in its oil palm plantation areas.
SDP has appointed audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and an independent international NGO specialising in migrant worker rights to further strengthen its human rights compliance.
“Our challenge is that we need to know their findings so that we can take action. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the details. We can’t move until we know the details on which we can act upon.
“Not knowing where the abuse (has occured) is one thing, but on the other hand, you are exposing that these workers are being abused, which is incorrect,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ravi said that the Malaysian palm oil industry is now focusing on improving productivity and yield, rather than expanding land for cultivation.
“We are committed in our pledge to the issue of deforestation and direct or indirect land use change. The Malaysian government has set the maximum arable land for oil palm at 6.5 million hectares by 2023,” he added.
Oil palm cultivation uses the least land area yet produces the highest yield. Its average yield of four tonnes of oil per hectare per year is four times higher than rapeseed, 5.4 times higher than sunflower, and eight times higher than soybean.
“Therefore, in order to meet the rising demand for oils and fats by 2025, it is estimated that there is a need to harvest an additional 60.7 million hectares of land for rapeseed, 84.2 million hectares for sunflower, 115 million hectares for soybean, compared with a mere 15.2 million hectares needed for oil palm.
“This shows that, oil palm trees are more efficient at producing oil than temperate oilseed crops,” he stressed.
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