Response to Labour and Child Rights Allegations

An analysis by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council

Multiple U.S. government agencies have publicly released assessments, including significant criticism, of the labour situation in Malaysia’s palm oil sector. This has led to negative consequences for Malaysian exports of palm oil to the U.S. market.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) has undertaken a close assessment of a number of the source materials cited by the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), U.S. Department of State (State), and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs & Border Protection (CBP).

The sources themselves, and the data and evidence they present, deserve significant scrutiny.

Our research uncovers significant shortcomings in the data and sources cited, and used, by these U.S. authorities:

  • Old Data: Much of the data provided by sources such as NGOs, or petitioner organisations, are out-of-date (in some cases by almost 40 years) or are not applicable to the specific complexities of the Malaysian palm oil sector.
  • Glaring Omissions: The U.S. Department of Labor’s assessment of the palm oil sector relies on significantly outdated sources and datasets, and fails to take into account initiatives undertaken by the private sector in terms of preventative action.
  • Misleading Accusations: The U.S. Department of Labor claims widespread forced child labour across Malaysia’s palm oils sector. However, the research cited and used to make these claims finds no evidence of widespread forced child labour that violates international norms.
  • Bias: There is reliance in several instances on reports by lobby groups that are explicitly opposed to palm oil in South East Asia. Using such reports as source documentation is not serious public policy, given the pre-existing bias built into those organisations. This approach undermines the claim that the findings by the U.S. authorities are taken from independent and evidence-based groups. Moreover, it undermines the goals of rooting out forced labour.
  • Failure to Acknowledge Progress: The U.S. State Department’s assessment similarly fails to acknowledge the work undertaken by the private sector to establish better practices, including NGO and trade union collaboration where legislation and regulation have not kept up to date with global benchmarks.

Response to U.S. Department of Labor Report

  • Research and sources are 10 years out-of-date on average; many are older
  • Omission of data and evidence that tells the positive story about Malaysian palm oil – including very limited inclusion of comments from Malaysian government or private sector
  • Lack of understanding or acceptance of the importance of private sector initiatives, in driving progress

Response to U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report

  • TIP report is not transparent, shrouded by claims they must protect sources and so it is hard to identify data points, funding sources and activity
  • Lack of acknowledgment from the State Department when real progress is made in Malaysia
  • Redundant Questions (identifying locations where Malaysia already undertakes significant work)

Response to Claims Made in Petitions to U.S. Customs and Border Protection

  • Several of the source documents are not actually focused on palm oil
  • Only 10 (of 48) reports cited actually used direct informant information
  • Child labour (which is not prevalent in Malaysia) is given unjustified weight and prominence