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FGV rebuts US petition claiming plantations use child labour

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Felda Global Ventures (FGV) Holdings Berhad has come out firmly to deny allegations that it has employed child labour in its operations, following an online petition urging a US boycott of Malaysian palm oil.

The petition by Grant & Eisenhower ESG Institute calls for the US to halt the importation of "palm oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil derivatives" produced by FGV, Malaysia's biggest palm oil producer, because of alleged labour abuses on its oil-palm plantations.

The US-based ESG Institute has described itself as a global thought leadership and advocacy group focused on legal considerations surrounding environmental, social and governance issues in institutional investing.

In a statement posted on its website, FGV said it had already taken numerous actions to address and resolve the concerns highlighted in the petition, several of which have already been corrected.

"Most recently, FGV adopted its Group Sustainability Policy (GSP) which underscores FGV’s commitment to the principles of human rights, including, labour rights; no child or/and forced labour; health and safety; non-discrimination and gender equality; zero tolerance of sexual harassment, violence and abuse; no deforestation and planting on peat; eliminating/minimising negative impacts on the environment; and climate justice," it said.

FGV said that all issues raised in the petition have been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and that it has taken several steps to correct the situation.

"FGV’s efforts are well-documented and available in the public domain.

"Furthermore, some of the allegations are untrue.

"FGV has never employed child labour in any of our operations. In fact, FGV has a strict policy against the use of child labour," it said.

The company acknowledged the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which in a letter dated Nov 28, 2018 had also highlighted existing issues at the group’s Serting Mill Complex.

"FGV has and remains committed to rectifying all the shortcomings as identified in the RSPO’s letter, and efforts are underway to take all corrective steps necessary to address the issues at hand,” it said.

The firm stated that it had also announced an immediate freeze on all new recruitment of workers from external contractors across its operations and committed to progressive updates to be published on its website.

"FGV has also identified the various measures that had already been taken towards full rectification. This includes reviewing and revising employment contracts; wages and benefits; and working conditions,” it added.

Additionally, FGV said it was in the process of establishing an Independent Advisory Panel (IAP) to its board, comprising experts in the areas of corporate governance and business sustainability.

The IAP will publish two independent reports every year on FGV’s progress in relation to addressing the RSPO’s requirements.

FGV also pointed out that the controversial PT Eagle High Plantations is not a subsidiary of FGV, and its operations were unrelated to FGV.

In 2015, FGV entered into negotiations to acquire the company, before deciding to call off the talks in December 2016.

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