Screen grab from opening page of FGV’s website

The United States has banned imports of palm oil and palm oil products from Malaysian company FGV Holdings following an investigation into accusations that FGV uses forced labour. This was reported by various news outlets including Reuters (see link). The ban was announced by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency on 30 September 2020 (see link).

According to Reuters, FGV is the world’s largest crude palm oil producer, and it has long faced allegations from rights groups over labour and human rights violations.

Palm oil is widely used in a large variety of consumer products such as processed foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and toiletries.

The CBP said its decision was “based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labor.” It added that the year-long investigation revealed forced labor indicators including (to quote from CBP’s statement):

  • 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.

TWC2 notes that many similar violations occur among Singapore companies and we have been urging businesses here to clean up their acts before they suffer similar bans.

The Singapore government also needs to take greater interest in such behaviour.

Moreover, as this FGV case shows, the growing global awareness is not restricted to the behaviour of employers towards their own employees, but is also concerned that companies should ensure clean supply chains of all products or components it sources. Even services — e.g. who built your factory, who maintains your airconditioning systems that cool your production floor — are within scope.

The CBP statement invites members of the public to report violations. “Any person or organization that has reason to believe merchandise produced with the use of forced labor is being, or likely to be, imported into the United States can report detailed allegations by contacting CBP,” it says.