Malaysia-based Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (SDP) announced on 11 March that it had started legal action against the managing director of an NGO in order to obtain information about a complaint he filed with the Securities Commission of Malaysia about SDP.

The company said it was the first time in its 200-year history that it had resorted to taking legal action against an NGO.

SDP filed its legal application against Liberty Shared managing director Duncan Jepson on 9 March in the Eastern District of Virginia, USA. It said the aim of the proceedings was to obtain important information regarding a complaint filed by Jepson with Malaysia’s Securities Commission, in which he alleged wrongful disclosures in SDP’s Sustainability Report 2019.

Liberty Shared had filed a complaint with the United States Customs and Border Protection agency on 20 April 2020, alleging the use of forced labour in the production of palm oil in SDP’s Malaysian estates.

SDP said it was made aware of the complaint on 7 July 2020, when Liberty Shared issued a summary of the complaint on its website. However, it said the summary did not contain enough information to allow it to close any alleged gaps in its operations.

“The Securities Commission started investigations into Jepson’s complaint and had then sought further information from [us],” the company said.

SDP said it would cooperate fully with the commission and it was therefore vitally important that it obtain limited but critical information from the complaint filed by Jepson.

SDP said it had – on Jepson’s request – appointed PwC Singapore in October 2020 to share the necessary information. PwC Singapore then appointed another individual who worked 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,” SDP said.

The company said it had now taken the next responsible step of appointing a third party assessor – Impactt Ltd – on 1 March to offer independent assessments of its entire Malaysian operations.

SDP is the world’s largest palm oil plantation company by planted area, according to its website. The company produces approximately 2.5M tonnes/year or 4% of the world’s crude palm oil (CPO) output. Its oil palm cultivated area is spread across more than 600,000ha in Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.