Obama Administration Rewards Malaysia with Improved Human Trafficking Status One Day After Wall Street Journal Exposes Human Trafficking on Palm Oil Plantations

Trans-Pacific Partnership deal coincides with sudden shift in Malaysia’s ranking; WSJ reports: “They buy and sell us like cattle,” says palm oil worker.


CONTACT: Emma Rae Lierley, Emma@ran.org, (425) 281-1989 | Christopher Herrera, Christopher@ran.org, (510) 290-5282


July 27, 2015 (SAN FRANCISCO, CA) – The Obama administration has removed Malaysia from the list of worst offenders for human trafficking and forced labor today, one day after The Wall Street Journal published an extensive report on human trafficking and forced labor on Malaysian palm oil plantations that directly supply major U.S. companies. Malaysia is one of 12 nations in the contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and inclusion of a country with the lowest ranking in the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report would be problematic for the administration. The report is an annual assessment on human rights-related issues.

The Wall Street Journal article “Palm-Oil Migrant Workers Tell of Abuses on Malaysian Plantations,” details extensive and pervasive worker abuses on Malaysian palm oil plantations controlled by Felda Global Ventures. Major U.S. companies, including Cargill and Procter & Gamble, are buying palm oil directly from Felda Global Ventures. As the FDA has increasingly restricted, and now banned, trans fat from the U.S. food supply, the demand for palm oil has skyrocketed over recent years — resulting in massive deforestation, climate change impacts and egregious labor violations. Today, palm oil is found in personal care and snack food products from Nestle, The Hershey Company, Kellogg Company and countless other major brands in grocery stores in the U.S. and across the globe.

Workers quoted in the article describe the terrible conditions. “They buy and sell us like cattle,” said one Bangladeshi worker. “There is no escape,” said another, “They bring policemen and threaten to send us to jail.”

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has been working since 2007 to convince companies to reform their policies on the production and purchase of this commodity.  But with today’s announcement from the State Department, the Obama administration has taken a major step backwards in fighting human trafficking across the globe. In response to the article, RAN Senior Campaigner Robin Averbeck issued the following statement:

“Today’s announcement from the State Department is nothing short of shocking. The conditions faced by workers in Malaysia — well documented by The Wall Street Journal — are deplorable and a clear case of modern day slavery in the palm oil industry. Unfortunately, the Journal’s story on Felda Global Ventures’ plantations is only the tip of the iceberg in exposing the systemic abuses faced by migrant workers in the Malaysian palm oil industry.

“Felda’s Conflict Palm Oil finds its way onto the shelves of American grocery stores thanks to companies such as Cargill and Procter & Gamble. This commodity ends up in U.S. homes in the form of Old Spice Deodorant, Pop-tarts, and myriad other snack foods and personal care products. Cargill and Procter & Gamble must act immediately to ensure that Felda remedy these serious workers rights violations in a transparent manner, or publicly sever all financial ties with Felda.

“This is a critical test for Cargill and Procter & Gamble. Both companies have recently adopted responsible palm oil policies prohibiting the abuse of human and labor rights in their palm oil supply chains, and their response to these new allegations will be proof of their commitment to these issues.”

“Nestle, The Hershey Company, Kellogg Company, and other members of the Snack Food 20 are at high risk of sourcing Conflict Palm Oil from Felda. They must press Cargill, and all suppliers, to remedy these violations in a transparent manner and cut ties with any suppliers not willing to take strong action to address labor violations.

“The U.S. Department of Labor has highlighted, since 2010, the widespread use of forced labor in the Malaysian palm oil industry in its List of Goods Produced with Child Labor or Forced Labor, and in 2014, the U.S. State Department downgraded Malaysia to Tier 3, its lowest ranking in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. Today’s announcement of their improved ranking seems to be a direct response to Malaysia’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal — despite the continuing human rights and human trafficking allegations outlined in The Wall Street Journal.”

For The Wall Street Journal article “Palm-Oil Migrant Workers Tell of Abuses on Malaysian Plantations”, see http://tinyurl.com/q68g2cr

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has detailed the progress of major U.S. companies in addressing the use of Conflict Palm Oil in their online report card on what they have termed The Snack Food 20. http://www.ran.org/sf20scorecard