28 Sep 2020 - MORE than two months ago, Sime Darby Plantation Bhd (Sime Plantation) was hit by allegations of wage theft, forced and child labour, bribery and money laundering from a Hong Kong-based activist group. It had also called for the United States to ban imports of the company’s products.
Sime Plantation, the world’s largest oil palm plantation company by planted area, has denied the allegations. It said as a multinational listed company operating in 16 countries and serving the interests of a large number of stakeholders, it had put in place a robust framework, policies and operating procedures on corporate governance, risk management and internal controls that extended beyond the regulatory and commercial requirements.
The activist group claimed it found presence of labour abuse in Sime Plantation after conducting interviews with workers and civil society, and scrutinising public disclosures, audit reports, and sustainability initiatives.
The New Straits Times recently visited Sime Plantation’s Tennamaram Estate in Bestari Jaya, Selangor to gain an insight into the group’s migrant worker management systems and practices.
The 1,840ha estate boasts a total of 165 workers comprising 59 locals and 106 from Indonesia, India and Bangladesh.
These workers are involved in harvesting ripe fruits, pruning trees, applying fertilisers, transporting fruit bunches to mills and spraying herbicides.
We sat down with three workers from Indonesia, India and Bangladesh who shared their experiences working at the estate.
Sinah, 37, from Indonesia, said Sime Plantation had always set productivity targets that were fair for the satisfactory completion of alloted work during a normal working day of eight hours, or spread over a period of 10 hours (overtime).
He said workers were not imposed with targets that were tied to their basic salary, which was important.
“I had known about Sime Plantation from my family and friends before coming to Malaysia. They said working with the group will guarantee you a minimum wage, and yes, it’s true. The information on payment is clearly provided during the orientation, too.”
Asked if they had faced issues of abuse, including non-payment of wages, forced confinement and excessive working hours with no rest days or breaks, and child labour, Sinah said there was no such thing happening at Tennamaram Estate.
“I did not see any indications of forced and child labour here. We have the choice to work overtime and I can confirm that there are no issues regarding lack of over time pay and rest.
“Even during this Covid-19 pandemic, our minimum wage is guaranteed with no wage deductions,” he said.
Tennamaram Estate general worker from Bangladesh, Omer Farok, 35, said Sime Plantation had provided fair and equal employment opportunities for employees, regardless of race, nationality, religion or gender.
“I have been working here for almost five years, and I did not find any discriminatory practices against us (migrant workers).”
He said all workers also enjoyed productivity-based income initiatives and other benefits.
These include free housing, sub sid is ed electricity, free potable water of up to 50 gallons every month, supply of rice, cooking oil and other grocery items, free medical treatment for employees and their immediate dependents, as well as amenities such as recreational facilities and festival celebrations.
Bappa Mondal from India said Sime Plantation provided workers with adequate equipment and training on the implementation of health and safety policies.
Mondal felt that Sime Plantation was a safe place to work and he was also aware about the standard procedures for reporting and responding to injuries in the workplace.
“I have been working with Sime Plantation for three years. I am generally happy with the provision of light machines that have aided in my work.
“I am also satisfied with the company’s policy of providing free personal protective equipment and tools because some of my friends who work with other plantation companies need to buy their own.”
He said since the Recovery Movement Control Order period, Sime Plantation had conducted additional daily operating procedures for all workers to ensure their safety.