Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (BBN)-Malaysia’s human-trafficking record is once again under scrutiny with claims that the palm oil industry is one of the worst offenders in the use of forced labour in plantations.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports today of illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Rohingya employed in plantations were denied wages and suffered other forms of abuse.
A plantation controlled by Felda Global Ventures, the world’s largest plantation operator, is cited as one of the employers of forced labour in the WSJ article.
WSJ reports Felda denying that its workers, nearly 85% of them foreigners, have had their wages and passports withheld.
Most of the foreign workers at Felda plantations are hired through third parties, reports The Malaysian Insider quoting the WSJ report.
The palm oil industry is worth about US$30 billion (RM115 billion) globally and Malaysia exports about US$12 billion of the world’s most consumed vegetable oil.
About three weeks ago, American lawmakers and human rights activists were alarmed at the United States government’s plan to remove Malaysia from a list of countries with the worst human trafficking records, according to media reports.
The New York Times newspaper and the Huffington Post website said US Senator Robert Menendez would call for an investigation if the US government upgraded Malaysia’s rating from Tier 3 – the lowest rank – in the US government’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons’ report (TIP) to Tier 2.
But pressure is mounting on the US to “upgrade” Malaysia’s ranking if it wishes to conclude a free trade pact since the country is legally barred from signing a deal with a Tier 3 country, said WSJ.
The US is using “fast-track” legislation to smooth the way for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and this year’s State Department human-trafficking report, delayed since June, is expected to be released today.
“They buy and sell us like cattle,” WSJ quoted a 25-year-old worker from Bangladesh as saying.
He said he had been shunted among three contractors for six months without receiving any pay.
Another Bangladeshi said his contractor deducted 30% from his weekly pay when he took an hour off to attend Friday prayers.
Foreign workers hired directly by Felda said they have a better deal and were paid the minimum wage or RM900 and allowed to go home every two years as per their contracts.
Felda is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a certification scheme meant to ensure environmental and social standards.
Its rules say all plantation workers must have adequate training and protection and be paid a living wage.
WSJ said Malaysia’s Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry spokesman did not respond to questions about the alleged abuse and use of trafficked workers on plantations.