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Malaysia’s palm oil industry cited for using child labour

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s palm oil industry has been cited by the United States Department of Labour for using child labour and for forced labour in the country’s electronics and garment sectors.

Malaysia’s palm oil industry cited for using child labour

A Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) farmer collects oil palm fruits in Hulu Selangor, about 100 km (62 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s palm oil industry has been cited by the United States Department of Labour for using child labour and for forced labour in the country’s electronics and garment sectors.

Malaysia appeared in the latest list of goods produced by child labour or forced labour released by its Bureau of International Labour Affairs (ILAB), which was released yesterday (Dec 1) as part of bi-annual reporting to the US Congress.

In a press statement on the department of labour’s website, it said palm oil was a new addition to the list of goods made with child labour, and cited Malaysia for it.

Malaysia’s electronics sector was also a new addition to the list under the category of forced labour, in addition to the garment sector.

The list, in its sixth edition, is required by US law under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act (TVPRA) 2005 to monitor and provide information on human trafficking for forced labour.

This news follows Malaysia’s downgrade to Tier 3 in the US’ annual Trafficking of Persons Report in June this year for insufficient action to combat human trafficking, whereby victims are said to include foreign migrants seeking work in Malaysia.

In a report about the list on the department’s website, the ILAB said it focused on information about children under the age of 18. It also defined “child labour” as work done by a person below 15 that is similar to slavery, for illicit purposes, and which harms “the health, safety and morals of children”.

It defined “forced labour” as work that is done under coercion, force and fraud and includes the use of threats or actual physical harm, schemes and abuse of the law or legal progress.

The list was made using data from “publicly available primary and secondary sources”, and these included data from the International Labour Organisation, site visits by ILAB and American government staff, as well as information compiled by academic institutions and non-governmental organisations.

Other goods made with child labour that were added this time around were garments from Bangladesh, cotton and sugarcane from India, vanilla from Madagascar, fish from Kenya and Yemen, and alcoholic beverages, meat, textiles and timber from Cambodia.

“There’s a story behind each item on these lists — a child facing back-breaking labour without education or other opportunities for a better life or an adult trapped in a dismal job through deceit or threats,” the press statement quoted US Secretary of Labour Thomas E Perez.

There are an estimated 168 million child and 21 million forced labourers globally making everyday consumer goods, it added, quoting the deputy undersecretary of Labour for International Affairs, Ms Carol Pier.

“Child labour and forced labour are fundamental human rights violations, and they are also bad business practises that stifle economic development,” she said.

The ILAB’s mission includes improvement of working conditions, raising living standards, protecting workers’ rights and addressing workplace exploitation of children and vulnerable groups.

The listing of Malaysia’s electronics sector under the forced labour category also follows a report by international labour rights group Verite, which in September said that nearly one in three of 350,000 workers in the sector suffered from conditions of modern-day slavery, such as debt bondage.

Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng urged the federal government to respond to the report or risk Malaysia being put on a watch list and be subject to possible economic restrictions.

Penang is a hub for the electronics and electrical (E&E) industry, contributing to about half of the sector which was worth RM236.8 billion (S$90.25 billion) last year, or 32.9 per cent of Malaysia’s total exports that year.

But, an opposition MP from Penang, Mr Sim Tze Tzin, said the industry practised self-regulation through the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct (EICC); but this had not been “properly communicated” by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to the US Labour Department. THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER

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