Kuala Lumpur, 11 March 2021 - Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (SDP) commenced legal proceedings for discovery of critical information against Duncan Jepson on 9 March 2021 in the Eastern District of Virginia, United States of America. The purpose of the proceedings is to obtain important information pertaining to a complaint filed by Jepson with the Securities Commission of Malaysia, in which he alleged wrongful disclosures in SDP’s Sustainability Report 2019. Jepson is and was at all material times, the managing director of Liberty Shared a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
The Securities Commission commenced investigations into Jepson’s complaint and had accordingly, sought additional information from SDP. As a responsible corporate citizen listed on the Malaysian bourse, SDP will cooperate fully with the Securities Commission. Thus, it is vitally important that SDP is able to obtain limited but critical information from the complaint filed by Jepson.
Liberty Shared had filed a complaint with the United States Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) on 20 April 2020, alleging the use of forced labour in the production of palm oil in SDP’s Malaysian estates. SDP was made aware of this complaint on 7 July 2020, when Liberty Shared issued a summary of the complaint on its website. This summary did not contain sufficient information to allow SDP to close any alleged gaps in our operations, which would have naturally benefited our workforce.
This is the first time in SDP’s 200-year history that we have resorted to taking legal action against an NGO. SDP engages with non-governmental and civil society organisations across the world, supportive and respectful of the important role they play in society. It is this relationship of mutual respect that has allowed SDP to become an industry leader, trusted by our peers, customers, and important stakeholders like highly reputable NGOs.
It saddens us greatly that despite several direct and indirect engagements, Jepson continues to withhold vital information that could have helped the very workers he claims to champion. SDP had in fact appointed PwC Singapore in October 2020, on Jepson’s request, to share with us the information necessary to address the alleged issues found in our plantations. Subsequently, PwC Singapore appointed yet another individual who works closely with Jepson and Liberty Shared, again on Jepson’s request. Neither PwC Singapore nor the individual have been able to share the material information needed to address any issues that may exist in our plantations.
Meanwhile, Jepson has expressed his view that the appointment of NGOs to assist SDP would not be ideal as, in his opinion, “social compliance specialists will not be able to offer an honest assessment of corporate governance and internal controls.” He also continues to withhold information despite repeated assurances that our main concern is the wellbeing of our workforce and that at SDP, whistleblowers are protected as a matter of course.
SDP has taken the next responsible step and appointed a Third Party Human Rights Commission on 1 March 2021, to offer independent and expert assessments of SDP’s entire Malaysian operations. Any information that will assist us to ensure our workforce enjoys safe working and living environments is welcome.