Feds ban palm oil from Malaysian giant over forced labor allegations

The feds have banned palm oil imports from one of the world’s largest producers because the company allegedly used forced labor to churn out the ubiquitous ingredient.

A year-long investigation found Malaysia’s FGV Holdings employed several abusive tactics against its workers that indicate forced labor, such as holding onto their identity documents, withholding wages, intimidation and physical and sexual violence, US Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday.

The probe also raised concerns that forced child labor was potentially being used in FGV’s process for producing palm oil, which is used in a wide range of consumer products from snacks to shampoo, officials said.

“These companies are creating unfair competition for legitimately sourced goods and exposing the public to products that fail to meet ethical standards,” Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Trade, said in a statement.

The agency’s so-called withhold release order issued Wednesday bars all imports of palm oil and palm oil products made by FGV as well as its subsidiaries and joint ventures.

Workers have complained of widespread abuses on palm oil plantations across Malaysia and Indonesia — the world’s two largest producers — as companies struggled to keep up with global demand, according to an Associated Press investigation published last week.

Workers-rights groups urged the feds to take action against FGV last year, pointing to the company’s alleged history of using forced labor and human trafficking in Malaysia, where it runs more than 400 palm oil plantations and 70 mills.

But FGV said it was “disappointed” by the US’s import ban given that it’s taken “concrete steps” in recent years to address human-rights concerns. The company said it briefs employees on their rights and the terms of their jobs, and pays “serious attention” to allegations of violence and intimidation.

The company “will continue to engage with CBP to clear FGV’s name, and is determined to see through its commitment to respect human rights and uphold labor standards,” FGV said in a statement Thursday, adding that it has been communicating with the federal agency since August 2019.

With Post wires

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