KUALA LUMPUR, 17 August 2020 – Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (SDP) today announced the second phase roll-out of the palm oil industry’s first Workers’ Voice (’Suara Kami’) grievance helpline across its operations in Malaysia to provide the Company’s migrant employees with an independent platform to raise issues. Following the successful completion of a pilot project in February 2019, the helpline will now be expanded to cover more than 23,000 SDP’s migrant workers, majority of whom are from Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
The helpline is the result of a collaboration between SDP, Nestle and Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) that was launched in November 2018 as part of the SDP’s efforts to strengthen its commitment surrounding human rights particularly on addressing migrant workers labour issues.
The multilingual toll-free helpline protects the identity of the complainant and is run by a third-party service provider, ELEVATE, one of the partners behind the renowned ‘Amada Kotha’ garment industry helpline in Bangladesh, as well an electronics and manufacturing industry helpline in Malaysia. Available in 7 different languages (English, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, Bengali, Nepali, Tamil and Hindi), it can be accessed via call, text or Facebook Messenger and has been adapted to meet the demographic as well as the geographical needs of SDP’s workers.
Sime Darby Plantation’s Chief Sustainability Officer Dr Simon Lord said the concern over safety and health of workers due to the current global COVID-19 pandemic should not derail the focus of companies on other equally pertinent human rights issues at the workplace. He said SDP is determined to proceed with the roll-out of the ‘Suara Kami’ initiative, utilising practical and alternative communication channels that adhere strictly to social distancing protocols to ensure the successful implementation of this helpline.
“Providing our employees with access to voice their grievance is crucial to protecting their rights without fear of retribution. It is part of our commitment to upholding basic, fundamental human rights and providing decent work, as outlined in our Human Rights Charter.
We want them to know that we are here to listen and understand their predicament. However, the availability of a platform alone is not enough; it must be managed effectively and efficiently as well as provide adequate remedial solutions,” said Dr Simon.
The helpline has a clear grievance protocol – local operators respond to concerns reported by workers which are then recorded on the Workers’ Voice online platform. Once a ticket is lodged, the case is classified, reported and referred externally, as appropriate, and finally handed over to SDP’s management. The worker receives step-by-step feedback, is updated on the outcome of the case and can put forward their dispute on the outcome, if any.
The helpline’s Protocol specifies timeframes that SDP’s management must adhere to when responding to cases based on the issue category. The management at the Head Office in Ara Damansara receives monthly dashboard reports and tracks progress, providing proper oversight and enabling effective action plans to be implemented throughout the Company’s operations.
During the initial roll-out of the pilot project back in 2019, a series of 16 on the ground trainings were held covering 24 mills and plantations. The roll-out was aimed at ensuring workers were aware of the helpline, understood how to use it and trusted the remediation process. SDP’s operations personnel and regional human resource teams were also trained in handling grievances related to forced labour.
“Focus group sessions which were part of the programme allowed our workers to provide feedback on the helpline and emphasised open dialogue as an effective means to address grievances. From the roll-out, we identified that our workers preferred to reach out via calls and that most of the tickets issued were in languages other than Bahasa Malaysia, which reaffirms the ability of this helpline in addressing language barriers present in channels that we had utilised before,” said Dr Simon.
“Cultural empathy and overcoming language barriers are indeed important in addressing human rights issues. By understanding their importance, we have not only improved our workers’ helpline, but also many other aspects of our practices. For instance, all our workers recruitment materials are translated into different languages. Employment contracts are also translated and personally explained to foreign workers in their respective languages during recruitment, upon induction and upon contract signing,” added Dr Simon.
The success of the pilot project demonstrates that the helpline is suitable for the palm oil industry and as such, SDP will be looking for opportunities to collaborate with other industry players to turn this project into an industry-wide initiative for the betterment of the sector.
The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur’s Labour Attache Office, has commended the efforts by SDP to establish a helpline to assist its migrant workers.
“The wellbeing of our countrymen working away from home has always been paramount for us. Most times, migrant workers lack an avenue to voice concerns and grievances for fear of reprisals, and this has been a cause of concern.
“Sime Darby Plantation’s initiative to establish an independent grievance helpline would address these concerns. It will give our migrant workers a sense of comfort that they will be heard, and their complaints dealt with accordingly, giving us the Embassy the confidence that the rights of our migrant workers will continue to be protected,” said Budi H Laksana, Labour Attache from The Embassy of The Republic of Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur.
The project has also received positive feedback from the migrant workers who feel confident that their voices are heard. A National Union of Plantation Workers representative from the Bukit Selarong Estate, Kedah, S.Thagaselam also said that the helpline is good for those who are shy or have trepidations to meet with the estate management or superiors.
“At least they can use this line to help solve some of their problems or talk to someone about welfare matters that are hard for them to share with the management,” he added.