The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office has issued a detention order on palm oil made by Malaysia’s FGV Holdings Berhad based on information indicating the use of forced labour, the agency said on 30 September.

Effective from 30 September, palm oil and palm oil products made by FGV Holdings and its subsidiaries and joint ventures would be detained at all US ports of entry, according to a CBP press release.

“CBP’s Office of Trade directed the issue of a Withhold Release Order (WRO) against FGV palm oil and palm oil products based on information that reasonably indicated the use of forced labour.

“The order followed a year-long investigation revealing forced labour indicators including abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime. The investigation also raised concerns that forced child labour was potentially being used in FGV’s palm oil production process.”

In response, FGV said in a press release on 1 October that all the issues raised had been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and it had taken several steps to correct the situation.

“FGV is not involved in any recruitment or employment of refugees. Effective 2020, FGV recruits its migrant workers mainly from India and Indonesia through legal channels and processes recognised and approved by the authorities of Malaysia and the source countries.

“As of August 2020, FGV had 11,286 Indonesian workers and 4,683 Indian workers, who together, form the majority of FGV’s plantation workforce. Furthermore, FGV does not hire contract workers and all workers are employed directly by FGV.”

FGV said that since August 2019, it had been communicating with CBP through legal counsel and had submitted evidence of compliance of labour standards.

“We will continue to engage with CBP to clear FGV’s name, and are determined to see through our commitment to respect human rights and uphold labour standards.”

The CBP said that Federal statute 19 USC 1307 prohibited the importation of merchandise mined, manufactured, or produced, wholly or in part, by forced labour, including convict labour, forced child labour, and indentured labour.

It said it would provide importers of detained shipments an opportunity to export their products or submit proof that the merchandise had not been produced with forced labour.