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3 Jul 2024

Malaysia: FGV workers' passports allegedly withheld amid delayed permit renewals, stranded for about five years; co. & certifier responses included

Years have passed since the arrival of hundreds of foreign workers in Malaysia to work for FGV, but they are unable to return home. Passports of FGV workers were detained by immigration authorities awaiting the renewal of their work permits. The director general of the Immigration Department says that the delay is caused because it is awaiting the settlement of payments by the company. In 2021, FGV faced another allegation when it was banned by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) due to accusations of forced labor during production.

Activist Andy Hall has now alleged that 10,000 passports of FGV workers were held by immigration, exacerbating the workers' plight. The workers themselves voiced grievances, alleging that FGV had prevented them from returning home after contract completion. FGV vehemently denied these accusations, asserting that workers' passports were safely stored and that they were entitled to terminate contracts at any time. However, the workers, mainly from India and Bangladesh, spoke of years spent away from their families, yearning for a chance to reunite.

FGV defended its practices, emphasizing the efficiency of the "Suara Kami" complaint mechanism and the provision of various channels for workers to express their grievances. However, workers have raised doubts about the effectiveness and confidentiality of this mechanism.

Director-General Ruslin Jusoh shed light on the situation, revealing that out of 1,787 approved permits, only 1,238 had been issued, leaving many workers in uncertainty.

In this backdrop, the Resource Centre reached to FGV, LRQA/ Elevate (which developed the Suara Kami grievance mechanism with FGV), the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification Scheme (MSPO) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (certifiers of FGV) to invite them to respond to allegations. Questions asked to each organisation or company can be seen in full at the links below; we received responses from FGV, LRQA and RSPO. MSPO did not respond.

In July 2024, Free Malaysia Today reported FGV had publicly committed to a six-month reimbursement drive to repay recruitment fees to Indian, Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers who had joined the company after September 2018. The company also said it had taken steps to budget for improvements to workers' living conditions, improved access to safe drinking water and improved internet access for workers.


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