US to block palm oil shipments from Malaysian producer, cites forced labor, child workers

US to block palm oil shipments from Malaysian producer, cites forced labor, child workers
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A United States order went into effect Wednesday banning shipments of palm oil from a major Malaysian producer that supplies many U.S. food and cosmetic companies, citing instances of forced labor and child workers, as well as physical and sexual abuse. 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Trade placed the order against FGV Holdings Berhad, according to The Associated Press. The Malaysian palm oil company supplies several American and multinational companies, such as Procter & Gamble, Nestle, L’Oreal and Unilever. 

“We would urge the U.S. importing community again to do their due diligence,” Brenda Smith, the trade office’s executive assistant commissioner, told the AP. “We would also encourage U.S. consumers to ask questions about where their products come from.”

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The announcement was influenced by a petition filed last year by nonprofit organizations and comes a week after the AP published an investigation into Malaysia’s palm oil industry

Through interviews with more than 130 former and current workers at about two dozen palm oil companies across eight countries, the AP reported multiple cases of unpaid labor, allegations of sexual assault and the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims to perform forced labor for FGV. 

Smith told the AP that the Office of Trade conducted its own yearlong investigation while also drawing on the reporting from the AP and nonprofit organizations. 

Smith said the agency was able to find instances of abusive working and living conditions, withholding of wages and allegations of forced child labor. 

In response to the U.S. ban, FGV said these claims “have been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and FGV has taken several steps to correct the situation.”

“FGV is disappointed that such decision has been made when FGV has been taking concrete steps over the past several years in demonstrating its commitment to respect human rights and to uphold labor standards,” the company said in a statement, according to the AP. 

Last week, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation aimed at cracking down on goods made in forced labor camps by a Muslim ethnic minority group in China’s Xinjiang region. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would “prevent certain imports from Xinjiang and imposing sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations from the region."