The United  States’ Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBPA) has blocked the imports of palm oil and products containing palm oil produced by Sime Darby Plantation Berhad and its subsidiaries, joint ventures, and affiliated entities in Malaysia, in a statement dated 30 December 2020. Products arriving at US ports will be withheld.

The order came after the agency said it had “information that reasonably indicates the presence of all 11 of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) forced labor indicators in Sime Darby Plantation’s production process”.

This is the second Malaysian palm oil company to be blacklisted. In September 2020, CBPA banned products from another Malaysian palm oil producer, FGV Holdings Berhad.

Palm oil is used as an ingredient in a large number of consumer products such as processed foods, cosmetics, soap and pharmaceuticals.

ILO’s indicators of forced labour include

  1. Deceptive recruitment (i.e. deceived about nature of job, employer, wages, etc)
  2. Coercive recruitment (i.e. violence, confiscation of documents, debt bondage, threat of denunication to authorities, etc)
  3. Recruitment by abuse of vulnerability (abuse of lack of information, economic reasons, relationship with authorities/legal status, etc)
  4. Exploitation (i.e. excessive hours, low or no salary, wage manipulation, bad working or living conditions, etc)
  5. Coercion at destination (i.e. debt bondage, confiscation of documents, focred to act against peers, threat of denunciation to authorities, etc)
  6. Abuse of vulnerability at destination (i.e. dependency on exploiters, economic reasons, relationship with authorities/legal status, etc)

As extensively documented on this site, some Singapore companies are hardly innocent of such behaviour and are therefore at risk of action by agencies in other countries charged with combatting labour exploitation.

Just to take a few simple examples:

  • Deception about salaries through opaque manipulation of the Ministry of Manpower’s In-Principle Approval process;
  • Threats to make police reports against employees for fictional crimes whenever workers speak up over something else (threat of deunciation to authorities);
  • Insisting that workers must get employer permission before they can leave their dormitories (bad living conditions/dependency on exploiters);