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U.S. says Sime Darby Plantation products no longer produced with forced labor

KUALA LUMPUR — U.S. customs authorities have determined that palm oil products made by Malaysian firm Sime Darby Plantation were no longer produced with forced labor, according to a notice on the U.S. Federal Register on Thursday.

Goods made by Sime Darby Plantation have been blocked from entering the United States since 2020 over suspected abusive labor practices. Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it had sufficient information that the firm used “forced labor” and the goods were subject to seizure.

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In response, Sime Darby Plantation appointed an ethical trade consultancy to audit its facilities, and last year set aside about $20 million to compensate current and former migrant workers who paid recruitment fees to secure jobs at the firm.

CBP, citing additional information it had received, said on Thursday it had now “determined that the products were no longer being mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part with the use of convict, forced, or indentured labor by the Sime Darby Plantation.”

The CBP did not state what evidence it had received or whether the ban on the firm’s imports had been lifted. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sime Darby said it was aware of the U.S. notice.

“We are optimistic that the tremendous strides we have made in bolstering the quality of life for our workforce will soon be recognized by the USCBP and that we will be allowed to resume exports to the United States,” a spokesman said in an email to Reuters.

Sime Darby Plantation is among eight Malaysian firms that have been banned by the United States in the past four years over forced labor allegations.

Malaysia in 2021 announced a government plan to eliminate abusive practices such as debt bondage, unhygienic dormitories for workers, and excessive overtime, by 2030. (Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi Editing by Ed Davies)