The world’s largest palm oil company by area has been hit with “serious allegations” of forced labor and child labor on one of its plantations, with a petition calling on the U.S. to block its imports.
The Hong Kong anti-trafficking group, Liberty Shared, made its petition to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) public this week, calling on the agency to block all goods from Malaysian palm oil producer Sime Darby.
Liberty Shared claims that it found evidence of labor abuse at Sime Darby plantations through interviews with workers and analysis of public documents and reports.
The industrial production of palm oil, which is found in a huge variety of products including lipstick and chocolate, has come under serious scrutiny in recent years amid allegations of forced labor and labor exploitation of a mostly foreign workforce.
Malaysia is the second-biggest producer of palm oil worldwide and has made efforts to promote sustainability and instill a positive image of palm oil in order to avoid sanctions and import bans.
But the allegations against Sime Darby, considered a leader in the sustainable production of palm oil, are likely to deal considerable damage to these efforts.
“For example, workers described the imposition of arbitrary penalties, threat of and actual sexual harassment, physical threats and abuse, various and inconsistent deductions in pay, varying conditions of accommodation, and fees charged for basic facilities,” said managing director Duncan Jepson.
Sime Darby said the allegations were against its public commitments to responsible agriculture and human rights.
“In the spirit of openness, transparency and collaboration that Sime Darby Plantation has always upheld, we intend to engage with Liberty Shared to further understand these allegations in detail to enable us to conduct a thorough and immediate investigation, and take corrective action, as the findings may warrant,” it said in a statement.
FGV Holdings, another major palm oil producer, has been the subject of international criticism and import blocks in recent years, failing to meet labor standards as recently as January this year.
Freedom United has gathered over 120,000 signatures calling on CBP to block FGV. Take action and add your name today.