I take note of today’s statement in which IOI Corporation (IOI) has made reference to a letter addressed to me by the US Customs and Border Protection Department (US CBP). It is stated in this public release by IOI that this aforementioned letter acknowledges CBP has started an investigation into alleged forced labour in IOI ‘s operations in Malaysia.

As this information has already been made public by IOI today, I can indeed now confirm that in early 2021, I petitioned CBP regarding my concerns as to the presence of multiple ILO indicators of forced labour in IOI’s operations, as alleged by IOI’s workers.

I can also now confirm that on 26th May 2021, CBP responded to my earlier petition in a letter, referred to by IOI in their statement today, stating that ‘CBP reviewed the petition and determined the information is sufficient to investigate the merits of this allegation.’

In regards to this issue, I crucially continue also to engage IOI directly on specific issues of concern relating to forced labour risks in its operations. Myself and senior IOI management have already had several beneficial and constructive engagements on these issues of concern in the past months.

Further, IOI has, during these engagements, committed to make efforts both alone and in cooperation with leading palm oil industry actors to more effectively address some of the specific issues I have raised.

These issues relate in particular, amongst other things, to payment of deposits by its workers, the lack of sufficient recruitment fees and related costs reimbursement processes and the compelling need to ensure ethical and low cost recruitment processes for foreign workers recruited in and traveling from source countries to work in IOI’s operations in Malaysia in the future.

I welcome continued and constructive engagement with IOI management to address forced labour risks in its operations and have been much impressed by their openness and willingness to engage with me on these sensitive and concerning issues.  

I continue to extend my sincere and constructive cooperation both to IOI, CBP, the Malaysian government, investors as well as all suppliers and buyers of goods made at high risk of forced labour in Malaysia. I do this to ensure genuine inroads are made into addressing the dire and systemic challenges facing Malaysia’s migrant labour intensive industrial sectors in reducing modern slavery and forced labour in their operations.

Whilst the Malaysian private sector needs to take the lead in addressing, preventing and remediating modern slavery and forced labour in its own operations and supply chains, the support and cooperation of buyers, public procurers, investors and the international community at large is essential and required here also. All these actors should be deemed complicit in this ongoing crisis situation regarding modern slavery and forced labour that is systemic in Malaysia.

At the same time, the Government of Malaysia is a key actor that should take the lead to combat modern slavery and forced labour within its borders. The continued and systemic failures of the Government of Malaysia to ensure a holistic migrant worker policy is developed and enforced in a way that balances national, economic and human security concerns continues to heighten and contribute to risks of forced labour and modern slavery occurring extensively within operations of both private and state run companies operating in the Malaysia.

The presence of systemic corruption, impunity and the lack of accountability and enforcement of the rule of law in regards to human trafficking, forced labour and abuses against migrant workers both at work, in their living accomodation and during migrant recruitment, registration, regularization and arrest, detainment and deportation processes are all crucial issues that the Malaysian government should urgently take genuine action to address and overcome.

This concerted action on such sensitive issues is required if the Government is indeed to provide a respected and transparent domestic framework, that complies with the rule of law, and by which the private sector can and should attempt to work to ensure its increasingly important efforts to combat systemic forced labour and modern slavery across its operations can be sustainable and successful into the future.