Palm oil: human trafficking, violence and abuse in Malaysia. The product goes to Nestlé and Procter & Gamble.

A survey by the Wall Street Journal denounced the abuses faced by migrants, particularly Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma), which are brought to work in the plantations of palm oil in Malaysia. It was rebuilt the story of the twenty-two Mohammad Rubel, who since last December, when he arrived from Bangladesh through the intermediary of human traffickers, he worked seven days a week, without receiving any remuneration.

After a journey that lasted 21 days, in about 200 on a fishing boat of smugglers along twelve meters, with food and water scarce, and dozens of deaths, Rubel was held for weeks in a camp in the jungle, until the traffickers are able to extort a ransom to his parents at home. Rubel said he saw dozens of migrants dying from exhaustion, disease or beatings.

The plantation where Rubel worked is a Felda Global Ventures subsidiary, a company created by the Malaysian government, which is among the largest producers of crude palm oil and, according to data on shipments to the US, has among its clients the giant agribusiness US company Cargill, which in turn, sells palm oil to multinationals such as Nestle and Procter & Gamble. Cargill and its customers have told not to be aware of abuses against workers in the plantations of oil palm and that Felda will open an investigation. For its part, Felda says that 85% of workers on its plantations are foreign and which are guaranteed their fundamental rights and the minimum wage.

To be entitled to the minimum wage, workers have to work 26 days a month but some workers said that the company let work them them less, to not recognize such a right: a practice prohibited by law in Malaysia. In addition, most workers are not under the direct dependence of Felda, but are classified as suppliers of labor, that interviewees from the Wall Street Journal did not want to indicate for fear of retaliation, because the abuses against them are more severe and are a common practice.

One of the jobs of Rubel is to spray pesticides, including Paraquat, banned in many countries due to its toxicity. Rubel says he received protective equipment but had not had any training and that the use of pesticides has caused dizziness. Felda is part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which certifies as sustainable, the 18% of world palm oil production and whose objectives are to reduce deforestation, preserve biodiversity, respect fundamental rights and living conditions plantation workers, small farmers and indigenous peoples. The RSPO General Secretary, of which its criteria certifications are the subject of many criticism, said he was not aware of abuses in Felda plantations and that it will open an investigation.

In its annual report on human trafficking, the US State Department indicates the cultivation of oil palm in Malaysia as one of the main sectors in which they are used and exploited workers trafficked. The Report of 2014 had ranked Malaysia at Level 3, the lowest, due to the insufficient efforts of the Malaysian government in the fight against human trafficking. The Wall Street Journal writes that there were pressures, so that this year was better judged and so Malaysia was increased up to level 2, which took place, to be able to include in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Free Trade Agreement that the United States are negotiating since five years with eleven other countries in the Pacific. However, also in the Report 2015, about Malaysia, they denounce the practices of forced labor faced by migrant workers in some sectors, among which stand out the oil palm plantations.

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