By Zuraida Kamaruddin

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Last Thursday (June 2), the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) clarified to the Malaysian media how it derived evidence of forced labour allegations and how it pursued its investigations that led to products from six Malaysian firms still being prevented from entering the US market after being slapped with Withhold Release Orders (WROs).

As much as we cannot totally agree with its reliance on remote or third-party evidence in its investigation process, we have to accept that at the end of the day, the enforcement agency is vested with the prerogative to act based on what it deems as proprietary information.

The Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC) has no intention of disputing CBP's prerogative, but feel the claims are unfair and also biased.

The ban on Malaysian palm oil and palm oil products (or rubber gloves for the matter) is based only on allegations of forced labour claims made by NGOs and other groups.

Nevertheless, CBP in detailing the route and subsequent actions taken against some companies, has reiterated that its investigations were done through reasonable information, analysis, investigations and assumptions.

In this regard, Malaysian palm oil and palm oil-related products may have to bear the brunt of being in direct competition with soybean oil of which the US is the world’s leading producer and the second-leading exporter.

Now that the modus operandi of the CBP and how their verdict is passed has been made clear, the onus is on industry players – especially those in the labour-intensive rubber gloves and plantation sectors – to pay heed to CBP’s
sensitivities and work around a remedial action plan to avoid being slapped again by a WRO for accusations of forced labour.

In this regard, MPIC wishes to commend the Malaysian Rubber Gloves Manufacturers Association (MARGMA) for its recent engagement with CBP to further develop a clear respect and understanding of the roles played by both parties in the governance of labour issues.

It is learnt that MARGMA has been spearheading such efforts since 2018 when it advocated a zero-debt policy and also initiated remedial actions to be undertaken by each member to dislodge itself from the stigma of forced labour by leveraging the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 11 indicators as the guiding principle.

Above all else, MARGMA has also formed an ESG Unit (environmental, social, and governance unit) and task force to actively educate and sensitise members and its employees on the 11 ILO indicators of forced labour. 

This vigorous exercise is done via partnership with the ILO), and the US, UK and European Union (EU) embassies/high commissions in Malaysia.